Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pasta Bolognese

As I mentioned in my last post, the keywords in my kitchen lately have been quick and easy. Still, I've missed the experience of really immersing myself in an elaborate recipe. I've been dying to get my hands dirty, try something new, and cook up something blogworthy. So the second I had a long, lazy Sunday afternoon in front of me, I decided to make a batch of pasta bolognese.

A good red sauce and a glass of wine is pretty much all it takes to make me happy. Unfortunately, I married a bonafide tomato hater. So I've spent the last few years collecting delicious pasta recipes that are completely tomato-free. Still, it's been my not-so-secret mission to convert my husband over to the side of justice and all that is good in the world. Bolognese was clearly the solution. Unlike the bright, assertive tomato flavor of a marinara, the tomato in ragu bolognese is tempered by the addition of rich, creamy milk. The whole thing simmers for a couple of hours, mellowing to an earthy, comforting sauce that even a tomato hater will crave.

My husband had two heaping bowls. The only "failure" of the entire undertaking was how effortless the recipe turned out to be. After chopping up the veggies and browning the meat, I looked at the recipe, did a double take, then looked again. "Is that it?!" I said out loud, feeling vaguely cheated of the relaxing chore of cooking. 15 minutes of work, then an hour and a half of twiddling my thumbs. Consider the quick and easy streak unbroken.

Pasta Bolognese (inspired by Mario Batali)
The orange-clogged one has yet to lead me wrong on a recipe. The only minor change I made was to substitute fennel for the celery and beef for the veal. I also cut down on the fat a bit. Between the meat and the pancetta, there was plenty of fat in the pan to keep the sauce rich and flavorful.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground pork
1 carrot, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
¼ pound pancetta, diced
Just over half of a small can of tomato paste
1 cup milk
¼ cup vermouth or 1 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan (I used my 5½ quart Le Creuset), heat the oil and butter, then add the carrots, onion, and fennel and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft but not browned (about 10-15 minutes).

2. Add the beef, pork, and pancetta and cook over high, stirring to keep the meat from sticking. Cook until the meat is browned.

3. Add the vermouth, then add the milk and tomato paste and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat, for 1 to 1½ hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Serve over pasta of your choice, with plenty of Parmesan for scattering over.

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