The perfect bolognese sauce.
First of all, everyone’s idea of perfect is going to be different. I’ve been making this since I was in my teens. Back then it was what I would describe now as an abomination. Capsicum, black olives, mushrooms… Over the years I’ve gotten the ingredients a lot closer to what could be described as more “traditional”. At different times I’ve had access to home made tomato sauces, fresh pork mince. Not these days. I just try to track down the best I can find locally in shops and markets. The only thing that has come from someone’s home is the herbs which are out of my garden.
200g of streaky bacon
500g of beef mince (lean as possible)
300g of pork mince
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large brown onion, diced
4 cloves or garlic, minced (yes, I’m a garlic freak)
chopped fresh herbs (sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano)
ground salt and pepper (good quality)
decent quality liquid beef stock
cup of decent quality red wine (or cup and a half). Don’t go putting Grange in it but don’t put the crap that you can’t bring yourself to drink in it either. It does effect the flavor.
best quality pasata sauce you can get your hands on. Rich, thick. You shouldn’t need to add sugar if you’ve got a good tomato sauce.
high quality olive oil. Lots. About a quarter cup or slightly more. This is an indulgence. We’re not ■■■■■■■ around here.
small dob of lard or butter (lard makes a difference)
pinch of nutmeg
Chili flakes (optional as is the amount)
decent dash of milk at the end of cooking. Enough to get a rich orange colour. Buttermilk is good but not essential.
Fresh basil on top at serving time regardless of what you’re doing with it.
Use a heavy pot. It’s gotta cook for a long time. I use my trusty old ancient Staub.
Get everything chopped and ready before you start. You don’t want to be distracted doing things at crucial stages.
Start out getting the oil and lard up to hot enough that when you throw in the onion it’s going to sizzle. Test with a bit of onion and then start with the bacon, whole. Get it nice and brown. Doesn’t need to be crispy yet though. Take it out and dice it. Onions go in and cook till just going brown. Turn down the heat and let it slowly transform. Onion is a really important flavor in cooking whether it’s curries or this. It needs to really brown up slowly. At this stage a lot of stirring. Put the bacon back in and get it gently sizzling again. Slowly, slowly is the key at this point. Some people like to ditch the oil and start again at this point. I say that’s freaking crazy. Keep all the bacony, lardy goodness.
Turn up the heat again. Now the carrot and celery until just getting soft. Again, lots of stirring. Once that happens the crucial thing is getting the garlic in at the right time. Depending on how finely it’s chopped. I have a chopper that makes roughly 1 cubic millimeter cuts. I’m not into crushers because it squeezes out the juice and then burns away in the pot. Chop it finely with a knife but don’t crush it. Garlic is just as important as getting the onion right. It has to go fully translucent and let out it’s oils without it or anything else going too dark. I don’t put the garlic in early with the onion. It overcooks, I find. As soon as it has started to go nice and soft start adding the beef and pork mince in clumps at a time. I have no idea of this makes a difference, it’s just what I do. Seems easier and you can keep an eye on how everything is looking. The oils getting released from the onion and garlic will absorb into the meat. Brown it all. It doesn’t have to be 100% cooked, just enough so that the liquids can absorb easily. Herbs go in now. I use more than most recipes do. Probably a few tablespoons all up. The cooking time will tame it down a lot and mix it through nicely. Stir it through until you can smell it all releasing oils for a while. Maybe a minute or even two. Crack a whole bunch of good salt and pepper in there. add the nutmeg and chili flakes. Don’t add too much nutmeg. Measure it if you don’t have a steady hand. 1 teaspoon tops.
Now it’s time for liquids. While the pot is still hot, add the red wine, leave it for a sec while it reduces and is combining with everything. Don’t let it burn! Then add the beef stock. Get it bubbling and reduce it back to a wettish, crumbly texture before you add the pasata. If it isn’t covering everything evenly have a back up good quality can of diced tomatoes. It should be swimming in bright red tomato at this stage. I use Mutti brand for pasata and tins. Nice and rich but it’s not really as good as some home made sauces I’ve had the luxury to get hold of in the past. I tend to use a jar and a can most times. Get this bubbling away for a while on medium heat and stir every few minutes to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. Once it’s simmering evenly for a while turn it down and walk away for 10, 15 minutes. Keep checking on it until it reduces to a nice thick consistency but not going dry. Almost the thickness you’d want it to be on the plate.
Now you turn the heat down as much as possible. Taste it. It should be starting to taste like it will when you eat it but a bit “immature” if you take my meaning. All the basic flavors should be there though. If it’s bland you’ve forgotten something. It won’t be. Put it on the smallest burner. Put the lid on. If you’re concerned about it being too dry add a little bit of water but not too much. Get that sucker warm and cosy because it needs to slowly bubble for at least 3 hours. Preferably 4. Maybe get away with 2 if you’re storing it in the fridge overnight and using it tomorrow but the longer the better. Check on it every 15 minutes or so and make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom. It does need to be stirred occasionally but not too often. Right at the end you stir the milk in and get it all rich and orange coloured.
And there it is. You’ll have a rich, tasty sauce that does everything it’s supposed to do. That’s what I reckon the best way to do this is. You can serve it up with pasta, make it into lasagne. Hell, have it with some crusty bread. Always add a good Parmesan.
Would love to hear some tips from others. I’ve had compliments from Italian mates and seem to get asked to make it by family and friends a fair bit. I can’t say it absolutely compares to some sauces I’ve tried at mate’s places but it’s not too far off in my own humble opinion (and I’ll never know their secrets).