When it’s cold and snowing on the weekend I generally don’t want to leave the house. I would much rather stay in and relax while cooking, usually something that takes a while, like this bolognese. It’s one of our favorite dishes, so I have managed to quicken up the cooking process a bit when we want it mid-week, since I’m not spending 3+ hours cooking dinner on a Tuesday. It’s the same recipe, I just put everything into a pressure cooker and rather than simmering on the stove for 3 hours, I pressure cook it for 40 minutes. So, you can do whichever method you like, depending on how much time you want to spend cooking.
This sauce is all about the meat. It’s a ragù, slow cooked, not overtly tomato-y or acidic and it’s totally delicious. I don’t always follow the same exact recipe, I use what aromatics I have and whatever I’m in the mood for. The only imperative rules you must follow are to use the best quality meat you can get, and don’t rush it. The magic happens in the slow cooking time that breaks down the meat and turns it into something completely different than just browned beef in tomato sauce.
And this all goes without saying, that the other half to this dish is the pasta. The sauce would be nothing without the pasta, so get the best quality you can, make sure to salt the water you’re cooking it in, and don’t overcook it.
I would also like to mention I tend to switch up whether I add wine to the sauce or not. Sometimes, like this time, I didn’t use any. I prefer to use white wine when I do add it, less tannins and the acidity of white wine goes well with the beef since it’s bound to have some fat, rich flavor, blah blah blah… Red works well too. If you want to add it in, go ahead, if not, no worries. Use red or white, whatever. It’s just there to enhance the dish, it’s all about the meat anyway.
The magic happens in the slow cooking time that breaks down the meat and turns it into something completely different than just browned beef in tomato sauce.
The original recipe I saw was made by Anne Burrell. The whole thing seemed like an excessive process of browning, salting, stirring and repeating over and over. But, I promise once you do it, it’s worth it. The main thing you need with this recipe is just some time and patience.
And like I said before, I will offer my one shortcut, if you want to call it that: use a pressure cooker if you have one. Otherwise, just cook it on low heat for 3 hours. Once everything is browned it gets pressure cooked for 40 minutes, naturally released, and then reduced a bit more if needed. It’s definitely not a quick meal here, but the sauce freezes well, so like always, make extra.
For the Ragù
- 1 sml onion – finely chopped
- 2 sml carrots – finely chopped
- 2 stalks celery – finely chopped
- 3 sprigs thyme – or more if you like it. I like it.
- 6oz tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic – chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 1lb ground beef
The other stuff
- 1lb pasta – whatever you like, I used Bucatini this time
special equipment: food processor and a pressure cooker, both help, but neither are required.
Add your meat to a hot pan, season with salt and cook till everything is nicely browned. Like, actually browned, not just un-pink. BROWN!
Strain off any excess fat from the pan. This will depend on the fat content in your meat to start and you can really leave as much as you want, but the meat will let off more fat as it cooks, so you’ve been warned.
Next, using a food processor, finely chop your carrots, celery and onion. Add them to the pan and cook them along with the meat until the veg is slightly browned as well. And, be sure to season with some salt again too. Once the veg is browned you can go ahead and add in the tomato paste. And like before, cook till it’s browned. It will go from a deep red color, to a burnt rust color, that’s when you know you are good to move on. And, just make sure to constantly stir the tomato paste, it’s got a high sugar content and you don’t want it to burn. Browning yes, blackening no.
If you’re using wine, add it in here. Scrape, stir and reduce by about half. Otherwise next step…
Cover everything with water, by about an inch and add in your aromatics. Here I used garlic, thyme and bay leaves. Rosemary is also nice, I just didn’t have any. Stir it all together and make sure to scrape off any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan at this point. And I would suggest tasting for seasoning again here.
Next you just need to let it stew. Either cook it on low heat for about 3 hours on the stove or 40 minutes in a pressure cooker and let it naturally release pressure. Once you’ve finished with this long portion of the cooking, test for seasoning again, and reduce the sauce if needed.
Then, just cook up your pasta of choice. I usually use spaghetti, but opted for some bucatini this time. Combine the pasta, sauce and a generous handful of grated parmesan together so everything is good, and evenly coated. Top with parsley if you want, more cheese and eat up!