Bolognese Sauce just like somebody’s momma used to make!
My husband and I traveled to France and Italy four years ago. Of course, we ate and drank our way through Paris, Strasbourg, Provence and Florence. The last place that we visited was Tuscany. Unfortunately, my husband got sick for our last 3 nights and we never got to see much of Tuscany. Luckily, we were staying in this beautiful hotel, Locanda dell’Amorosa in Singaluna. So, while I did not venture far (except to the market for the Italian version of ginger ale), I still was able to enjoy delightful food and beautiful surroundings. The food and service at the hotel were exceptional.
We drove from Florence to Singaluna and luckily were able to see Siena along the way. It is one of many beautiful hillside towns in Italy. Siena may best be known for Palio di Sienna, the medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice a year. We were not there for that event, so we will always remember Siena for its amazing Duomo, the Cathedrale di Santa Maria. It was far more impressive than the Duomo in Florence. The floor of the Cathedrale di Santa is covered up with boards all but one month of the year to preserve the amazing mosaic. Fortunately, we were there during that month. Much of the floor is roped off so that you are not able to walk on certain parts, but we were able to see the mosaic and it was breathtaking.
We also stopped for lunch in the little town of Singaluna. There were not many options, so we chose a tiny local spot that seemed lively. I could not even tell you the name of the restaurant. There was one older woman (think grandmother) that was waiting on all the tables. Of course, she did not speak English and we did not speak Italian, but when it comes to food, we can figure it out enough to get great food! The place was packed with locals eating course after course of huge plates of meats and pasta followed by bottle after bottle of red wine. We knew it had to be good with all the patrons. These big, hungry men were keeping this lady running. I was not sure we would ever get our lunch.
I did finally get my Pasta with Bolognese sauce and I must say that it was one of the best I have ever had. It was richer and had more fat than I had before in a Bolognese sauce and I am sure that is why it was so good. I have tried many recipes since that trip to try to find something similar. This was definitely a dish that I wanted to bring home and recreate as close to the original as possible. I think I have found “the one” after trying many different versions. This seems to be the most traditional recipe.
I will tell you that I tried many other recipes that included more ingredients and different types of meat, but this was the simplest and most like what I had in Italy. Tyler Florence (who I really do like and enjoy many of his recipes) adds all sorts of ingredients that are not traditionally in Bolognese sauce (bay leaves, garlic, dried mushrooms, basil) and Cooks Illustrated uses 3 meats (beef, pork and veal). Although some of the recipes I tried might use a small amount of pork, the preferred meat seemed to be good old ground chuck. Sometimes simpler is better. The following is the original recipe by Michele Urvater which was the closest recipe I found to my Italian experience with Bolognese sauce. I have noted a few changes I made to make it even more like the dish I had in Singaluna.
Classic Italian Bolognese Sauce
* 2 Tbsp olive oil
* 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
* 1/4 cup minced pancetta
* 1 cup minced celery
* 2/3 cup minced carrot
* 1/2 cup minced onion
1 lb ground beef chuck
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped with liquid
1 lb pasta
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
In a 3 quart saucepan heat oil and butter. Add pancetta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until most of the fat has been rendered. Then add carrots, celery, and onions and saute for 3 minutes. Now add the beef, salt and pepper to taste and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Add the milk and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the milk is completely evaporated. Add wine and simmer until evaporated.
Finally, add the tomatoes and simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours partially covered. It’s important to reduce as slowly as possible. If sauce becomes dry, add 1/2 cup water whenever necessary. When almost ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until it is tender but still firm to the bite, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, pat dry and return to the pot. Add your sauce to the past and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, and serve immediately. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.
* Do use whole milk. I have tried it with whole milk and 2% milk. It is a much richer sauce with the whole milk. I use a French white burgundy for the dry white wine. Do not use an American Chardonnay as most are too oaky and will interfere with the other flavors in the sauce.
* I add several tablespoons of concentrated tomato paste during the last half hour on the cooking time. Even though there are tomatoes in the sauce, I still find that it needs a bit more tomato flavor. I also find that I do need to add the water periodically as the sauce does begin to dry.
* The Bolognese sauce that I had in Singaluna was also served over egg pasta. I use an organic tagliatelle made with durum semolina (Bionature brand). You will not need an entire pound of this pasta. An 8.8 oz. package comfortably serves 3 people. I drain the pasta, but do not pat it dry as the recipe says. Instead, I mix some of the sauce with the pasta and a little of reserved pasta water. I top it with the remaining sauce. Of course, I finish with lots of good (and freshly grated) Parmigiano-Reggiano.