When I took Pen out this morning, the air was chilly and crisp, and the sky was brilliant blue dotted with a few really soft, super white clouds. The leaves had only just started to turn, but it felt like the start of a new season–like summer was finally giving in.
On days like these, all I want to do is open the windows wide and cook something that takes all afternoon, permeating the house with warmth and comfort as it bubbles away on the stove.
Enter bolognese. I have been making this recipe for a good eight years now, and it took nearly that long to totally embrace the drawn-out process of preparing this sauce. More than anything, I had to learn to have the patience to finish each step before moving onto the next.
Sweat the vegetables for 30 minutes till all the water is gone, then another 45 minutes after adding the meat; 30 minutes more after the tomato paste goes in, then 45 minutes after the milk and wine are added. By the time it’s done, the end result is more than just sauce…it’s a gorgeous amalgamation of different meats. Tomatoes, wine, aromatics and milk are all important components, but the final product isn’t notably saucy. It’s meaty.
See what I mean? That is why you need to you give yourself a good six hours to make this dish from start to finish.
Note: All these lovely photographs were taken by my friend, Andrew Boudreau. Thanks, friend, for documenting one of the true joys of life: four hours of meat slowly cooking in wine.
Rigatoni bolognese a la Marge
2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 very large onion, roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, smashed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2/3 pound ground sirloin
2/3 pound ground pork
2/3 pound ground veal
1 8-ounce can tomato paste
1 cup milk
1/2 cup dry red or white wine (I used chianti)
1 pound rigatoni
1 cup chopped fresh basil, divided
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Good-quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Method: Pulse the vegetables in a food processor for about 30 seconds until they form a rough, grainy paste.
In a 5-quart Dutch oven (or other large, heavy-bottomed pot) over medium heat, sweat the vegetables with a large sprinkling of salt and pepper in the olive oil, until all the water has evaporated, 20 to 30 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when the sizzle starts to sound dry.
Reduce the heat to medium low and add the meat, along with another large sprinkling of salt and pepper. Render the meat, breaking it up with your spatula as it cooks, until all the moisture is gone, about 45 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir until the meat and vegetables are thoroughly coated. Cook for another 30 minutes, until everything has melded and a reddish-brown crust begins forming on the bottom of the pot.
Stirring constantly, pour in the milk followed by the wine.
Allow the liquid to reduce completely, then reduce the heat slightly and cover the pot. Let the sauce simmer (you should see small, steady bubbles), covered, for another 45 minutes, stirring periodically, until the sauce is very thick and homogenous. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed with salt and pepper.
Near the end of the sauce’s cooking time, bring a large heavily salted pot of water to a boil, and cook the rigatoni according to the package directions until al dente, reserving about 2/3 cup of starchy cooking water.
Drain the pasta and add it to the finished sauce, along with half the basil, tossing with tongs to combine. Add spoonfuls of starchy pasta water as needed if the sauce seems too thick or dry. Turn off the heat, and toss in about half the cheese.
To serve, divide the rigatoni equally among each bowl. Garnish with the leftover basil and cheese, along with a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil.