Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
In Northern Italy, about half way between Venice and Florence, lies a red-roofed city called Bologna that is filled with quirky charm and absolutely spectacular food.
Many people consider Bologna to be the culinary capital of Italy. This region is the birthplace of lasagna, mortadella, ragu, tortellini in brodo, and oh so much more!
I happen to have an extra soft spot in my heart for this fantastic city. I spent a gloriously fun (and of course, studious) year there studying for my Master’s Degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. SAIS-BO! (Yes, that was both a plug and shout out). So, as you can probably guess, I often get a hankering for some delicious (authentic) Italian food, and when I came upon this recipe for bolognese sauce – a meat based or ragu pasta sauce – I jumped at the chance to give it a whirl. I’m not gonna lie, this sauce kicks some serious butt.
The key to this sauce is browning the ingredients at just about every stage, which means taking your time and letting everything meld. This develops full, rich flavors and results in an awesomely thick sauce that clings perfectly to the pasta (and your ribs!).
Add the meat and brown it! I used a combination of ground beef and ground veal.
Add the tomato paste and brown it.
And then comes the wine, about a bottle of it! Once you add in the 3 cups of wine, just about everything slows down, and the sauce is reduce and simmers for a long, long time – approximately 3 1/2 hours.
Simmering…simmering…with thyme and bay leaves.
Throughout this process, I used a small spoon to skim off some of the fat from the meat. Although some fat is still left behind, this really cuts down on the saturated fat in the sauce.
Throughout the simmering stage, you’ll add water, about 2 cups at a time, and allow the sauce to reduce after each addition. This makes the sauce, well, saucy. If you add all of the water up front, you’ll get a runny, watery consistency, rather than a superbly thick and creamy ragu.
Generally, bolognese sauce accompanies tagliatelle – “cut” pasta – which are large egg noodles. You could substitute a thick spaghetti, fettuccine, or even rigatoni.
After straining the pasta, I layered the sauce and pasta in a large bowl and tossed everything well to coat the pasta with sauce.
I used a quality extra-virgin olive oil as a finishing touch while mixing in the cooked pasta. This adds an added punch of flavor. I also mixed in a bit of grated Parmesan cheese – right into the pasta. And, of course, I topped each bowl-full-of-goodness with additional cheese!
All I have to say is – yum! Please, please do yourself a favor and make this sauce. You won’t regret it, I promise. On a long, cold, snowy weekend, take it for a spin. You can freeze the sauce in smaller portions for convenient weekday dinners. Even better if you can host some great friends to enjoy this pasta with some equally great wine and conversation.
Some of my fellow Bolognesi who partook in the feast.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese – serves 8-10
Based on the amazing recipe from Anne Burrell
1 Large Onion, roughly diced
3 Large Carrots, roughly diced
4 Celery Stalks, roughly diced
4 Cloves Garlic
Salt (Kosher or Sea Salt)
3 lbs Lean Ground Beef or Veal
2 c Tomato Paste
3 c Red Wine
6-8 c Water
1 bunch Thyme Sprigs, bundled
3 Bay Leaves
1 1/2 lbs Tagliatelle Pasta (or other large noodle pasta)
3/4 c Parmesan Cheese, grated
High Quality Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Puree the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic in a food processor until the vegetables form a coarse paste. Coat a large, deep-sided pan with olive oil and place over medium heat. Add the pureed vegetables and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until all the water has evaporated and the vegetables become browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook, stirring often, for another 15 to 20 minutes until the beef is brown. Add the tomato paste, and again cook until brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add the red wine and cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 5-10 minutes. Add about 2-3 cups of water to the pan to cover the meat. Add in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine well. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. The water will slowly evaporate. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours and continue to add water 2 cups at a time, allowing each addition to evaporate and reduce. Stir occasionally. Taste the sauce and season with additional salt, if needed. During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat to cook the tagliatelle. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, generally for about 4 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, remove about 1/2 c of the pasta water and mix it into the sauce. Drain the pasta. In a large pot, add portions of pasta and sauce and stir to mix well. Repeat until all of the pasta and sauce (at an equal ratio) have been combined. Sprinkle with 1/4 c of the Parmesan cheese and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into individual bowls or one large serving bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmesan and serve immediately.
Nutrition Information (Approximate Values): 690 Calories, 14g Fat, 37g Protein, 85g Carbohydrates, 5g Fiber
I never said this was low-fat…