Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recipe: Spaghetti Bolognese

This popular Italian meat sauce is cheap to make, very filling, and will change the way you look at "spaghetti sauce". I mean, what is "spaghetti sauce" anyways?

1 lb Ground Beef
1 lb Italian Sausage Meat
1 Large Carrots
2 Stalks Celery
1 Large Onion
6 Cloves Garlic
1 Pack Mushrooms (baby bella, crimini, button all work)
1 14.5 oz can of Chicken Broth (or use water and chicken bouillon)
1-2 28 oz cans of San Marzano Tomatoes
*These measurements will make for 1 large pot, enough for 5-6 people easily*
Red Wine
Hot Pepper Flakes
Parmigiano Reggiano
Tomato Paste

-Try eating with different types of pasta! Penne or rigatoni works very well!
-Use any type of grated Parmesan cheese you like! I frequent the Trader Joe's selection of many different cheeses.
-Use more garlic if you love it as much as I do! Personally, I would add 1 whole head of garlic in for a large pot.
-Plan to make a big batch, this stuff holds extremely well in the fridge and freezer!
-I recommend using at least one 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes,  but I've used up to two regularly for a large pot. This is so you can adjust how much tomato you want in the end. But when in doubt, use two!
-Prepare mise en place (prepare everything before cooking)!

-Use store bought pasta sauce for this. For this recipe it just won't work.
-Use the hot pepper flakes that you've been collecting from all of that delivery pizza. Their flavor and heat are not as strong as store bought chili flakes. Be careful if you're using the good spicy stuff!

The Meat:
For a large pot, I use about 1 pound of ground beef (85/15) and 1 pound of Italian sausage. Season the mince with salt and pepper and toss into your pot on high heat with a good amount olive oil. We're going to essentially fry the outside of the meat and create a lovely fond (meat bits stuck to the pot) at the bottom. To help break up the meat, I've had success using a potato masher. Keep it on high heat until you see the bottom covered with bits of fried meat. Whether the meat is fully cooked thru at this point doesn't matter.

The Vegetables:
I prefer to grate my carrots when making this sauce. Finely chop your celery, onions, and mushrooms (yes we're chopping the mushrooms, they should look like little bits when you're done). I aim for a size less than 1 cm wide. Add all of your vegetables to the pot with the seared meat, along with a tin of anchovies (half a tin for a small portion). Saute until soft and translucent. Finally, add your minced garlic and saute for 1 minute.

The Tomatoes:
I get a kick out of buying whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and crushing them with my hands at home. Empty the can into a large bowl, and break up the tomatoes with your fingers. Or just used the diced variety (you're missing out!). Before we add our tomatoes, open up a well to the bottom of the pot and add 1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste. Tomato paste is concentrated tomato. It makes our sauce hold more tomato flavor as it stews over time. And don't let the word paste scare you off.

 Shown above is the ingredients list of Prego's Italian Sausage & Garlic.

Used in the right way, tomato paste will no doubt improve your bolognese. We want to cook the tomato paste for about 1 minute first, then add 1-3 cups of red wine (I Toscana, but adjust for your own taste. The more red wine you add, the more bold, heavy, and stringent the sauce feels on the palate). Go ahead add stir in your tomatoes now too.

Simmering and Aromatics:
If you decided to use chicken broth, add the can into the pot now and add water until the liquid sits 1-2 inches above all the ingredients (depending on the dimensions of your pot). If you decided to use chicken bouillon, add 1 tbs to start or 1 cube, then add water until the liquid sits above the ingredients as mentioned above. The is almost no difference in what method you choose, but do pay attention to the salt content of either methods (taste test accordingly).

At this point, I'll chop in a large handful of basil and add some hot pepper flakes. Bring the pot up to a boil, and then back down to a simmer for 2 hours. I can guarantee that the flavor of the pot right now will taste completely different with time. Be sure to check on the sauce for water content! I like my bolognese to be thick and meaty as shown earlier.

The recipe is done and what you do next is entirely up to you! Serve your bolognese on top of your pasta and feast! Garnish with basil? Grate some fine aged Parmigiano Reggiano on top? Just some ideas to play around with.

*Below are some miscellaneous tips and other things that I found useful when making spaghetti bolognese*

-Most ground beef is made from beef chuck (shoulder), which has lots of connective tissue ground into it. By simmering the sauce for a long time, the meat actually becomes more tender as the connective tissue breaks down. This also releases a lot of flavor from the meat, which is perfect!
-Split Italian sausages out of their casings and use their meat directly. But don't let that be the only way to do it! You can sear the sausages whole to develop even more flavor! You can cut the sausages up after, or just let them fall apart in the sauce.
-Taste testing before simmering often has weird results. You still taste every ingredient separately and it's hard to gauge the actual flavor.
-Want to increase umami? Cook your bolognese in a dutch oven. Instead of simmering, bake your entire pot at 350 F for a few hours to caramelize the bolognese on the side of the pot. Scrape them down later and stir in before serving.
-Wrap up your extra tomato paste in plastic wrap and freeze in 1-2 Tbsp portions for easy use!
-Only use a red wine you would drink for your cooking. In fact, drink some as you're cooking!

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