It may look like I only love and am obsessed over Asian food. Not true. I have another love that started a long time ago. My curiosity with food started when I was young, like elementary age. I remember coming home from school and watching “Great Chefs.” I became more intrigued by food, the older I got. Growing up in Long Island, there is a pretty large Italian or Italian American population (my next door neighbors name was Salvatore, Sal for short). Anyway, my first food obsession was Italian! I know, I know you could argue the Italian food in LI is “Americanized” Italian food, but the flavor was what captured me. Those flavors are why Italian food is my first love. I became obsessed with learning about it early, I remember watching Mario Batali in middle school and making fresh pasta in 6th grade.
This is not to say I am an expert in all things Italian, because I am not. I haven’t even been there, sad I know (one day). However, I do know enough to hang! What I love about Italian food, is that it isn’t overly complicated or pretentious. It really is about using the best quality ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. That is why cacio e pepe taste so good and it literally has like 4 ingredients!
Now, hopefully I didn’t get you thinking this is a 4 ingredient Bolognese, it’s not. It is a little bit more complicated than that and may require about 5-6 hours of your time. Cue shock and awe! Hey, this is a Perfect Meat Sauce and you can’t get to perfection without a little bit of time and energy. Believe me this sauce is worth it, it’s like grandma sauce! This is comfort food at it’s best, the stuff your kids will remember you for, when they are grown and gone. Everyone needs a meat sauce recipe in their back pocket that they make for special occasions or lazy Sundays when it get’s cold outside.
Are you still with me??? Great, I am happy I didn’t loose you over the 5-6 hour comment. The reason why this recipe takes a while is because you patiently let each layer of flavor develop fully before moving on to the next step. The last few hours of the recipe are just letting the sauce simmer, but the first couple of hours are hand holding and coaxing. Upon researching, I found two ways of preparing Bolognese. One using copious amounts of tomato paste and simmering with water till reduced and adding in more water at time. The other is using a small amount of tomato paste or none at all but using pureed tomatoes and letting it reduce. This recipe is a combination of both. It starts off with a mirepoix, which is the backbone of any good stew, soup or sauce. It also has pancetta, because we all know rendered pork fat makes everything better. At the end, a cup of milk is added (this is very traditional), it may seem odd but it give the sauce a creaminess that I am sure helps to coat the pasta.
The only special ingredient here is canned San Marzano tomatoes. The tomatoes are from Italy and have a sweetness that make it the best for making any tomato based sauce. I used to have a hard time finding it, but not anymore, pretty much the average grocery store stocks it. Just make sure the can is labeled San Marzano. Also, I have never found them crushed, only whole, so you will have to puree them.
This recipe makes plenty to freeze at least half and use for another time. Use this sauce to complement your favorite fresh or dried pasta. Use it in your favorite lasagna or baked ziti recipe (
coming soon here)! The possibilities are endless!
Below are the general steps. The recipe follows.
Finely chop veggies in a food processor.
Brown beef and pork.
Add water and reduce
Add tomatoes and simmer.
2 lbs grass fed beef
1 lb responsibly raised ground pork (no hormones no antibiotics)
2 tbsp of olive oil, plus additional
4 ounces pancetta chopped
large pinch of red pepper flakes
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 bunch of italian parsley, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup of red wine
2 – 28 ounce cans of San Marzano tomatoes, pureed
4 cups of water
1 cup of whole milk
Take all three meats out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature while you are prepping the ingredients. This will help the meat break up and brown. Chop carrots, celery, and onion together or separately depending on the size of your food processor, then set aside.
Heat a dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the pancetta and red pepper flakes and let it render about 5-7 minutes or until slightly brown (not crisp). Then add the chopped vegetables and a sprinkle of salt, turning the heat to medium-high. Saute the vegetables till all residual water is cooked out and starts to brown. This can take about 20 minutes or more, because there is not a large surface area on a dutch oven, it can take a while for all the liquid to evaporate. The vegetables won’t brown until all the liquid has evaporated. Do not move on to the next step until the vegetables begin to brown. Next, add the minced garlic and saute for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pot and create a surface for the meat. At this point you may need to add additional oil to the pan if it looks dry. Add the beef and pork and another sprinkle of salt to the pot. Break it up with a wooden spatula or spoon. Once broken up you can start to stir in the vegetables that are on the sides of the pan. Saute the meat and vegetable mixture until brown, stirring occasionally (every couple of minutes). This can take approximately 20 minutes or more also. Do not skip this step. Browning the meat is creating another layer of flavor.
Once the meat is brown, add the tomato paste. Here again, we are going to brown the tomato paste. This will take approximately 5-7 minutes. Add the red wine. It will probably reduce almost instantly with the heat of the pan. Add the 4 cups of water, bay leaf and let it reduce to almost half. This will probably take approximately 30 – 45 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add in tomato sauce, parsley and simmer uncovered for about 3 hours (at least 2). Once finished, add milk and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Perfect Meat Sauce! Now wasn’t that worth all the effort!