I had a free Sunday today, and I’d planned on making spaghetti bolognese for dinner. Then I thought I’d write a bit about it.
Update, November 2021: read an improved version of the spaghetti bolognese recipe. It’s easier and tastes better, I think, and isn’t as pretentiously written.
You’ve probably heard of the dish “Spaghetti bolognese”, and have had it countless of times, served in schools, restaurants, and at home as an everyday dinner across Europe and America. There are equally countless variations of the recipe, with ingredients varying from celery and bacon to milk and soy. I’m not actually sure there’s a “true” spaghetti bolognese, as the dish actually doesn’t exist, traditionally in Italy, in the shape we non-Italians are used to. According to a Wikipedia article, the tomato fueled bolognese we’re used to is actually closest to the ragù served in the Naples area (ragù alla napoletana). The traditional ragù in the Bologna area is much more basic: meatier and less sauce-y than what you’re probably used to.
The Guardian’s article aptly named How To Make the Perfect Bolognese includes the paragraph
The fact is that there is no definitive recipe for a bolognese meat sauce, but to be worthy of the name, it should respect the traditions of the area. There’s nothing wrong with a tomato-based beef ragu, rich with garlic and olive oil, except that it’s not what, traditionally at least, they’d eat in Emilia Romagna, which is dairy country. As for serving such a hearty meat sauce with delicate spaghetti — well, that is wrong. But it still tastes pretty good.
In summary: you do you. Cooking food is (loosely) like sex: if it feels [tastes] good, it’s probably fine.
What I’ve done here is to accumulate stuff I’ve picked up from others during the years, as well as extensive research online for more tips and tricks, in order to boil everything down to a process that fits me (I’ve ordered the light version of “The Silver Spoon” but it hasn’t arrived at the time of writing).
What I love about bolognese is that it’s so very versatile. It can be boiled down to a very basic recipe you can make in 40 minutes, or make it a Sunday meal activity where you long cook it for 4 hours with homemade tomato passata. Up to you (our mantra here, if you didn’t pick that up).
All ingredients are stuff you can find at the local super market, of course, but as usual, try to find good quality groceries as it’ll taste richer. I usually go with 100% beef meat (eco), but I guess a pork mix is fine too. I have to confess that I’ve cut out the celery part when I make it myself, since I hate celery beyond reason.
I usually make bolognese on 800g of meat. But that’s for Sunday dinner, and then me and the girlfriend has lunch boxes for the week at work. The bolognese tastes wonderful the day after in the microwave, so it’s the perfect dish for making a large batch of. And, it’s quite satisfying to make huge fucking batches of food too. Just a tip. Feel free to double all measures in the recipe below if so.
You can put in tons of fun stuff: everything from mushrooms to bacon. The latter will make it a more smokey flavour. I honestly think the mushroom taste is disappearing in the tomato sauce, but that’s just me.
Some recipes, mostly the traditional ragù ones, calls for white wine. But as I’m making a “tomato ragù” here, I go with red wine since I think it marries with the tomato better.
The tomato sauce
The essence of what we associate a good bolognese with! Juicy, sweet, rich tomato sauce. I learned a lot researching this. In recipes I’ve encountered online, they use something called “passata” or “passato”. What’s passata? It’s “just” tomato puree: it’s not pasta sauce and it’s not tomato paste. It’s versatile (you can use it for all kinds of tomato stuff in cooking) and dead easy to find (I swear your grocery store has it, just not named “passata”). This site has further explanations, and Mutti has the coolest page ever, describing their passata product. Recommended read.
I bought the Mutti one in a glass bottle from my grocery store, as well as one passata package from a local Swedish brand called ICA — just to compare the two to each other, since I was making a large batch of bolognese. I tasted the two beforehand: Mutti’s passata was slightly thicker and sweeter (it includes 99.5% tomatoes!). ICA’s was a bit watery and not as intense after taste. But both had a near equal richness in flavour to me. Mutti’s is also a tad more pricey.
Or “Jesus finally he gets to the actually cooking, that nerd”.
These are the things I use:
- 400g of minced beef meat
- Olive oil
- 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1/2 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 2-3 garlic gloves
- 200 ml (a small drinking glass) of red wine
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 400 ml of passata
- a couple of fresh basil leaves
- salt and pepper
- fresh parmesan or pecorino cheese for serving
Ok, lets go!
Total time: Around 1 hour and 30 minutes. If you’d like to long cook it, around 4 hours. Preparations: if you’d like to use the oven for long cooking, start preheating it to around 175˚C now.
- Open the bottle of wine and pour yourself a glass. You’ve probably earned it. Let the meat warm up a bit in room temperature if you’ve had it in the fridge or just bought it. This will make it sear rather than stew when it goes into the pan.
- Peel the garlic gloves, cut them in halves. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery.
- Heat up the olive oil in a deep pan or pot (I use one of these). Use low to medium temperature.
- Add the garlic gloves and stir them around to flavour the oil for a few minutes. Don’t burn them or let them get too brown. I usually leave the garlic gloves in, but some people remove it at this stage.
- Add the onion, celery, and carrot. Increase the heat some. Keep stirring! Do this for around 5-8 minutes.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add to the pan. Let the meat cover the whole base of the pan, rather than stirring it around too much. The idea is to sear the meat rather than boil it, due to the protein and liquids in the meat. So make sure it stays still for 5-6 minutes until it heats through completely. Check on the vegetables so they don’t burn. Poke in the garlic gloves into the meat if you want to. When the meat looks brown enough on the top surface, stir it around and mix with the vegetables for around 10-12 minutes.
- When the meat starts to stick to the pan, we can bring out the wine. Add the red wine and let it reduce into the meat.
- No sight of wine left? Good. Then we can put in the table spoon of tomato paste. Stir around and mix it out and let cook for a couple of minutes.
- Add the passata! Bring everything up to a boil. Add water if you’d like a more liquid sauce. Add a handful of basil leaves for the cooking.
- Here you can either long cook it for around 4 hours — either on the stove or in the oven — or let it simmer covered on the stove on low heat for around 1 hour. Stir it occasionally during this time and enjoy the nice smell. If you have a lazy Sunday, try going for the long cook variant to see how it turns out! Chances are you’ll like it.
- Bring up a lot of water to a boil, with lots of salt (more than you think — at least the double).
- Add a pasta you like. Regular spaghetti is nice, as well as tagliatelle.
- Boil until al dente and serve immediately. Let the eaters put parmesan or pecorino on the pasta and bolognese if they’d like. Some table fling salt isn’t bad either. Serve with the same wine as you had in the bolognese.