Meat Sauce, Bolognese-Style

Posted on 02/04/2010. Filed under: Dinner |

If past lives exist, I have often imagined I was Italian in a past life. A fat, Italian cook that kept yelling “Mangiare!” at her family and friends. I love Italian food. I adore pasta, thick meaty sauces, garlicky crusty bread torn apart to sop up the leftover sauce, rich Tiramisu with delicate lady finger cookies soaked with Kahlua (try Mama Zu’s Tiramisu…so good you will want to smack someone), crispy-yet-chewy pizza crust…my adoration of Italian food goes on. The big hearty wines! Fresh seafood from the Mediterranean! Italian food and their way of eating is exactly why I love cooking: homemade rustic food with simple ingredients and shared with a large table of loved ones.

When I came upon this week’s dish, Bolognese meat sauce, I was totally psyched. The recipe comes from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. The recipe seemed a little small, so I decided to make a HUGE pot of Bolognese. I have never made a meat sauce for pasta really. I have made meat sauces for lasagna, but never to serve over pasta. I have made marinara though, and my marinara is basically whatever I feel like putting in it–couple cans of Italian-style diced tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, Italian seasonings, etc. I can’t remember exactly what I do other than throw ingredients in a pot and let it simmer for at least an hour.

So meat sauce, Bolognese to be exact. Bittman’s recipe, doubled, calls for a pound of ground pork, a pound of ground beef, half a pound of bacon. Bittman says one can use bacon or pancetta, and frankly times is tough and I simply did not have the money for pancetta. American bacon will have to do.

I would like to mention that I love pork. I am totally the girl hanging out at Buz & Ned’s with a half rack of baby-back ribs and a cold beer in front of her with their smoky, sweet sauce is all over her hands and face. Bacon is a gift from God. Prosciutto is divine. Whenever I pass a barbecue joint, I love to inhale deeply. I dig the pig, for sure.

I diced my veg, using one large white onion, two stalks of celery and about eight baby carrots. The recipe calls for two carrots, but I already had a bag of baby carrots (which are regular carrots whittled down to the size of children’s fingers. Haha, got you thinking about eating your kid’s fingers when you eat baby carrots now! That’s how I roll in my evil ways!). Bittman says to cook the bacon/pancetta with the veg, but I just didn’t feel right doing that, so I started cooking the bacon in my stockpot first and then when it was nearly done I added the veg. I let that cook, stirring occasionally for about five minutes, and then added the ground pork and beef, breaking up with my hands and my wooden spoon. Bittman then says to add the juice from two 28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes. Actually he suggests plum tomatoes, but Kroger just doesn’t carry plum tomatoes in a can. The canned tomatoes look like their of the plum variety, but I am a little tomato-ignorant. I know, I love Italian but I don’t eat raw tomatoes…Italian friends are shaking their heads now, I’m sure. So I added the juice, which came out to 2 and a half cups of tomato juice. I got a little nervous at this point because that’s a lot of liquid. But I rolled with it. Added the juice, scraped up the bits of deliciousness that was on the bottom of the pot.

Then he suggests adding the tomatoes. And here’s a little tip: if you are adding whole tomatoes to a sauce or stew or whatever, and need to crush the tomatoes with your hands, don’t just go squeezing them. Because those suckers still hold juice and seeds, which like to squirt towards you and spray your front with tomato goop. So be careful when breaking down tomatoes by hand, and wear an apron if one is available (I forgot mine and doused my favorite jeans in tomato). Added the tomatoes, as well as more liquid–two cups of beef stock. Swanson’s y’all, I don’t keep beef stock on hand.

I let all that simmer for an hour. The house smelled heavenly. Deliziso. After an hour of the stockpot simmering away, I took a taste to see if I needed to add salt & pepper. I added pepper along the way of cooking, and skipped the salt because I figured the bacon would take care of the salty factor. And it did. But this was an Italian dish that Mark Bittman forgot to add herbs to. No garlic! No oregano! WTF?!

I added garlic powder, Italian seasoning, oregano and basil, S&P, stirred it up, thought it looked too liquid-y so I let it simmer for another hour uncovered. Since this was such a huge batch, I scooped some out for tonight’s dinner and divided the rest between three plastic containers that my nearby Chinese place puts the soup in when ordering takeout. I added milk to tonight’s portion like the book says, and let it simmer while I waited for water to boil for the pasta. The sauce still looked too wet so I drained a little of the liquid off.

When the pasta was done (I used spaghetti), I added the pasta back to the pot I cooked it in and tossed it with the sauce, sprinkled parmesan on top and dug in. It was all right. It was good enough but didn’t necessarily curl my toes. It’s definitely meaty and the bacon added an interesting smoky depth to the sauce. My mom had a plate and she thought it was delicious, and was pleased that she couldn’t taste the carrots as she does not like carrots much at all.

Overall it was kinda meh. I think I need to take a break from Bittman and look in other cookbooks for next week’s adventure.

Where it all came from: Kroger.

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[…] car being frozen this morning.  Because of the nasty weather and being in a cooking funk after the Bolognese Disappointment, I made something I knew would work, I knew we’d get more than one meal out of, something […]


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