If you love Bolognese, you'll love this Bolognese
The return of Home Movies Tuesday!
Hello and welcome to Home Movies Tuesday! If you’ve found your way over by some miracle but are not yet subscribed, here, let me help you with that:
Yes, it’s true: Home Movies is back with some sort of regularity, the sweet, the savory, the out-of-season pastas. I’ve been on a bit of a BOOK TOUR (I know you know!) and while it has been the thrill of a lifetime, I also haven’t been “taking care” of myself at all, save for the three hours I spent at Olympic Spa two weeks ago.
I miss sleeping in my own bed (or sleeping, generally), washing my face regularly, drinking enough water or working out with any sort of intention (if you count carrying heavy luggage in an airport terminal “working out” then I have been doing that).
I’ve been talking about myself too much because it comes with the territory, eating at too many restaurants for fear of missing out on eating at a great restaurant. I’ve been extremely ON 24/7 (even wearing real clothes at the airport!), consistently trying to achieve the perfect blend of “likable, authentic, honest, polite, charming, funny, confident, humble, relatable” in every single article, podcast, interview and human interaction. Sometimes it’s easy because I feel I am those things, and I succeed. Sometimes I’m physically exhausted or having a bad day or feeling tired of being asked about some of the worst times in my life and feel like I’ll never quite nail it. I am a human person doing their best, rebuilding/building things, evolving in real time and this tour has undoubtedly been a huge part of that. I am so happy and thrilled and grateful for everyone who’s attended the events, listened to the podcasts and been so enthusiastically baking from Sweet Enough. My heart is full, it is soaring, it is VERY EXCITED to be home for a few days.
Anyway, above all else, I really miss cooking. I miss writing about cooking. I miss eating in my kitchen, I miss feeding my friends inside my apartment. I miss watching Succession when everyone else does, on my couch with a bowl of pasta on my lap.
ENTER: A bowl of pasta. Specifically, pasta dressed in the style of Bolognese, of which I have three quarts of in my freezer and will be reheating for lunch. I have been sitting on this recipe for years and somehow never published, but today, it feels right. Today…is the day.
I have to admit I feel sheepish putting out this bolognese recipe this late into spring. It was meant to be something we made in the winter, and then maybe early spring, and then both of those seasons came and went and no bolognese. But now….bolognese? If you’re in New York my weather report tells me it’s going to be just perfect weather for such a long cooked, meaty delight, but in other parts of the country I am sorry to do this to you while it’s so unseasonably (and tragically, predictably) warm. That said, bolognese is spiritually seasonally agnostic, caring not if the sun is shining or the rain is pouring. Bolognese is a matter of the heart, not the temperature.
As you probably know, I’m a fan of “making things your own,” and respectfully, I have done that here, but at its core it’s still respectful of the rules: Fatty meat, tomato, wine, milk, gentle simmer. There’s a glaring omission of carrots because I don’t care for carrots in most places unless they are the star.
My advice is laid on pretty thick in the video but TLDR;
Don’t use meat that’s too lean— you need the fat for the lusciousness (if you’re going to use turkey, and I know some of you will, use higher fat beef or pork in addition).
Don’t simmer too fast or too hard — the gentleness is what gives you that telltale creamy emulsion— bolognese is not meant to be a quick weeknight meal. It is a practice in patience and a gorgeous devotion to the long act of cooking. Please don’t make this in an instant pot.
Do brown the meat enough— it’s where so much of the flavor comes from. So much so, that when done well, you probably don’t even need broth/better than bouillon.
Don’t fuss that there is fennel seed in it— My recipes (like me?) are nontraditional and rarely by the book. It’s good, trust me.
Do make the full batch— It’ll make more than you need. Good! It freezes well and makes a great gift to people who would never find it weird to be handed a quart of frozen meat sauce.
A RECIPE FOR BOLOGNESE
serves about 8-10, more or less depending on the crowd and what else is being served
This is my bolognese, emphasis on the “my.” Will it be for the purists? Not likely, but at its core, I still play by the rules: Fatty meat, tomato, wine, milk and a long, slow, gentle simmer. There are no carrots or celery here, but there is a fennel bulb (sweet like carrots, vegetal like celery), and to double down on the blasphemy, a bit of fennel seed. This version might be a touch more tomato-y than a classic bolognese, but that’s how I prefer it, almost splitting the difference between ragù and bolognese. I’m not wedded to the classic mythology of chopping the meat by hand, so feel free to mix your own blend of pork, beef, veal, and because someone is going to ask: sure, turkey-- but don’t go too lean, or you’ll never earn that rich, creamy emulsification, no matter how long you simmer.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fennel seed
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine* (nothing sweet, should be acidic, nothing too fancy but still something you’d love to drink)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand)
3 cups chicken, vegetable or beef broth or water, plus Better Than Bouillon (using just water will also work), plus more if needed
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, optional
Pasta (long, flat noodles or short, fat tubes), cooked al dente
Cheese (hard and salty, such as such as parmesan, pecorino, or grana padano), for serving
1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Add the beef and pork and season with salt and pepper. Using your wooden spoon or spatula, break up the meat as it browns (the ultimate end goal is for the meat to effectively melt into the sauce, so you do want it in smaller pieces from the get go).
2. Continue cooking the meat until it’s about 80% browned to your liking (this should take 10-15 minutes at least), then add the garlic, onion and fennel. Season again with salt and pepper and continue cooking until the meat is browned 100% to your liking and the onion and fennel are softened nicely, but without much color themselves (another 10-15 minutes).
3. Add the fennel seed and crushed red pepper flakes, if using (if not-- are you some sort of purist? Honestly, respect).
4. Add the white wine and let it cook down until it’s barely there, 3-5 minutes, followed by the tomatoes, broth and milk (the milk may separate a bit or look grainy at this point—don’t worry, it will meld together as the sauce simmers). Bring to a strong simmer and then reduce the heat to medium–low (or, if you have an especially powerful range, low). Let this sauce gently simmer and lightly bubble for at least two (2) hours, uncovered, stirring occasionally, tasting as you go because it already smells so good, you can’t believe you have to wait that long, so may as well taste as you go. NOTE: You do NOT want this sauce to boil or you risk messing up the eventual emulsification of the sauce (read: it’ll always feel soupy/grainy rather than silky/creamy). If it seems very thick after one hour, add additional broth. Alternatively, you can pop your oven safe dutch oven into a 300° oven for the same amount of time, but then it becomes more difficult to taste as you go, my favorite part.
5. Around the two hour mark, the sauce should be thickened considerably, the meat melting into the tomatoes, everything tasting slightly sweet a little tangy, deeply meaty. If it still looks soupy or like the meat is not fully melted/incorporated into the sauce, it needs more time. And if it needs more time, it needs more time! Keep simmering.
6. Once the sauce is to your liking, add the butter, let it melt. Prepare your pasta as you would, get out the cheese and your cheese grater or microplane. Make a little salad if you want. Get ready for the whole experience.
7. When it’s time to mix the pasta with the sauce, I know you’re going to do what you want, but let me say this: Pasta should be lightly dressed with bolognese, not doused. This sauce is rich and fatty and needs to be treated almost like a condiment. Remember: you can always add more but you can’t take away.
The pasta should arrive to the table already dressed, mixed and seasoned. More cheese and chili flake (if you’re a freak like me) are also welcomed (those can be presented on the side). Sadly, and you’ll almost never hear me say this, this isn't the time nor place for parsley.
*If not using or cooking with alcohol, use water and a good splash of white wine vinegar.
DO AHEAD: If you find yourself with more sauce than you can eat tonight, well, don’t worry, this sauce freezes beautifully. Reheat in a pot over low heat, adding water or broth as needed to thin. Future self thanks you!