When I’m craving a hearty meat sauce, I typically just make it the way my mom makes it… which happens to be the way my grandmother makes it. (This would be on the Bartoli side of the family) But this time, I decided to do some research.
I found out from the Italian Academy of Cuisine that this sauce dates back to the 5th century, and traditionally has very little tomato in it, most of the time taking only a couple spoonfuls of tomato paste.
In the Italian Academy of Cuisine’s records, the recipe takes no herbs or garlic, very little of the tomato component we Americans tend to think of as a large part of the sauce, and quite a bit of milk! In the more recent update of the recipe, you add a cup of milk little by little at the end of the process (after the rest of the sauce has been simmering for over 2 hours). The classic recipe calls for ‘a panna di cottura’ of a litre of whole milk… milk that has been reduced to about half in a separate saucepan.
I was famished before I even started the process of cooking, so I decided to alter the classic recipe slightly, but use some of the components that my grandmother’s recipe has, over the years, let slip through the cracks.
Because I was so hungry I decided to cut the simmering time in half and not use the litre of reduced milk (my Italian ancestors are apparently rolling in their graves). I also incorporated some spices and herbs. Sorry sorry sorry… But I did add the celery, carrot and cup of milk that my grandmother’s recipe omits.
So here’s where I give you a quick rundown of my bolognese ragù… which, in one last godsmack towards my Italian kin,
I served with spaghetti
despite the traditional vehicle being tagliatelle: For the sauce, it’s quite easy, dice the onion (I used 1 and a half because I had an extra half of an onion on its last legs and I hate to see a good onion go to waste), carrots (2) and celery (2 stalks) and sauté them with some olive oil and butter.
Your keen culinary eye will notice some fresh thyme in there (it’s a sickness; I can’t help but put herbs in a pasta sauce!) I also put some salt and pepper. Once the veg is soft, you add the ground beef. I don’t like using ground beef that is too lean, so I chose 80/20.
Before I threw in the beef, I got rid of the excess liquid and kneaded in some salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper and chili powder. Once that’s in the pan it will cook fairly quickly. Add the red wine first… I have a bad habit of not measuring anything because most of the time I don’t use recipes, but I’d imagine it was about a cup (?!) then add the tomato paste.
Remember, the traditional recipe only calls for tomato paste (5 spoonfuls) but I also added some canned crushed tomatoes.
The sauce simmered for about an hour. I couldn’t hold out any longer, so I brought my salted water to a boil and started my spaghetti. Once my water came to a boil, I added my pasta and turned my attention back to my sauce. I incorporated the cup of whole milk…tasted for salt and pepper (my grandmother and mom both add a nice pinch of sugar to the sauce at the very end) but I figured the milk would achieve a similar sweetness and the sugar was overkill.
People have asked me how I manage to never overcook or undercook pasta. I believe it’s just a matter of tasting the pasta frequently, biting into it, you know? Once it gets to that point where it’s just slightly too firm to be really enjoyable (but if you had to eat it, it wouldn’t get stuck in your gums and cause legitimate dental problems) I take it out. It will keep cooking. If you undershot it and think it’s still too firm, throw it in with the sauce and let it swim around in there until it’s cooked to your liking.
I strain the pasta but leave a bit of the starchy water in the pot. After I put the pasta back in, I add a bit of olive oil and a couple cups of the sauce. I mix that in with the pasta so that it’s completely coated with the sauce… I don’t like my pasta naked, it’s just wrong. Then add more sauce to the bowl/plate and top with (parmesan) cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeese.