People get upset when you mess with tradition, especially when it’s a beloved food tradition. I have a spaghetti meat sauce that my family adores. I throw it together regularly in the slow cooker. It’s the type of recipe I make by rote, with my eyes half-closed. It bores me to tears, but my husband and kids love it. When I have a writing class or a girls night out, I leave it behind as a peace offering. So when I started experimenting with a different bolognese recipe, a more traditional one, cooked all day in a Dutch oven, I didn’t get much support. More like death stares.
This summer we traveled to Tuscany and stayed in a gorgeous villa with postcard views of vineyards and hay fields. If this sounds like a dream vacation, check out my full recap including a link to the villa and restaurant recommendations. The lovely Arianna, founder of Arianna and Friends Tour Company, and a tiny tough nonna took over our kitchen for a day and put us to work, cooking a feast which included homemade pasta, homemade pizza, and a fragrant ragu. The nonna directed in Italian, Arianna translated into English with a smile, and we learned how to use a mezzaluna, how to make soffrito, and how to roll out dough like an Italian. The idea of bringing a more authentic pasta sauce into my repertoire has haunted me ever since.
The recipe that inspired me to start tinkering was in the April 2015 issue of Bon Appetit. Nowadays, my reading of Bon Appetit involves a lot of flipping the pages with disgust. Too many celebrity interviews. Too many gimmicks. Too many fonts! But this issue was all about cooking like a pro, and amidst all the web-like styling, there was some real inspiration. In particular, this Ultimate Bolognese Sauce, which began with rich caramelized chicken livers and ended with hand blended sauce.
I tried the recipe as it was written in Bon Appetit and found it too livery. And I like chicken livers. A lot. This chopped chicken liver with golden raisins would definitely be on my last supper menu.
So I tinkered with it, and came up with this recipe which I love. No more chicken livers. A full soffrito base (with carrots and celery instead of just onions). Ground turkey instead of ground pork. I love the consistency, how it coats the pasta with a richly flavored crumble of meat. This all day bolognese sauce is a different type of comfort food, a sauce that partners with a good pasta, letting both shine.
But just so my family doesn’t disown me, let me be clear. This is not a replacement of their beloved spaghetti with meat sauce which is drowning in tomatoes and sweet, and perfect in its own way. This all day bolognese is a true meat ragu, a more traditional sauce, and something that transports me back to those slow cooking days in Tuscany. It’s a different animal altogether, and there’s room for both in our kitchen. Now, mangia!
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1 large onion, minced
- 2 ribs of celery, minced
- 2 carrots, peeled and minced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 lb of ground beef, preferably chuck
- 1 lb of ground turkey, not breast meat
- 1 teaspoon of rosemary
- 1 teaspoon of oregano
- 1 teaspoon of sage
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more to your liking)
- ½ teaspoon of black pepper
- 1 28 oz can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- 1½ cups of 2% milk
- ⅓ cup of good quality red wine (drink the rest when you eat the pasta)
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrot, and celery mix (sofrito). Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, until soft and fragrant.
- Add the garlic and the spices (rosemary, oregano, salt, pepper, and sage). Cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the garlic is softened.
- Add the tomatoes and the wine. Mix to crush any whole tomatoes.
- Add the meat, crumbling it as you add. Stir to combine with tomatoes and sofrito. The mixture will be fairly thick - almost like meatloaf.
- Add the milk and mix to prevent any standalone pools of any one liquid.
- Cover the dutch oven with the lid. Place in the oven and cook, undisturbed for 6 hours.
- Take out the dutch oven. You will have a big cake of meat inside. Don't be scared! Take out your trusty hand blender and move it around through the meat to loosen it all.
- You can serve the sauce the same day, or save it for the next. The flavors will improve with a day of rest.
- Boil your pasta, reserving a cup of the pasta water when you drain it.
- Toss the pasta with the sauce, and thin it out with ½ cup of the pasta water. Add the rest of the water if you think it is still too dense.
- Serve warm with parmesan cheese - preferably freshly grated.