Italian cuisine is comforting, tasty and easy to make. There are so many different variations of tomato-based Italian sauces. Marinara is a lighter sauce from Southern Italy, which is great during the warmer months and is typically made with tomatoes, garlic, herbs and onions. Ragù is a meat-based sauce, which in Northern Italy, is usually made from minced, chopped or ground meat, and cooked with sautéed vegetables in a liquid. Bolognese is a type of ragù sauce (known in Italian as ragù alla Bolognese) originating from the Northern Italian city of Bologna. Bolognese sauce is typically served with broad flat pastas such as tagliatelle, pappardelle or fettuccine. A sauce this thick shouldn’t be served with a delicate pasta like angel hair, but a thick spaghetti or penne will work well. It also makes a fantastic sauce to use in lasagna.
Bolognese is a complex yet easy sauce that will impress your friends and family with its slow-cooked deliciousness. Ingredients include a soffritto, which is a mixture of onion, celery and carrot; ground meat, typically beef, but pork can also be added or used instead; a robust red wine; and tomato concentrate. The following recipe adds a little more tomato than is typical, but is still a rich, hearty sauce that is perfect for the cooler months. It makes enough sauce to eat with your favorite pasta one night, then stores great in the fridge or freezer to make lasagna a week or month later.
1-2 lbs. ground beef
1 small onion or half a large onion, rough chop
2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
2 ribs celery, rough chop
4 cloves garlic
12 oz. can tomato paste
28 oz. can pureed tomatoes
1 cup rich red wine (nothing light)
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste
In a food processor, puree the onion, carrots, celery and garlic into a coarse paste. Start a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and coat the bottom with olive oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt and some pepper. Cook stirring frequently for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the water has evaporated from the vegetables and they become a light golden brown.
Add the Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Pour the spices into the palm of one hand and break them up into the pot with your hands. This will help awaken the dried spices. Combine the spices into the vegetable mixture. Add the ground beef and season generously with more salt. Break up the beef with a wooden spoon or a potato masher. Be sure to brown the beef, it should take another 15 to 20 minutes. *Don’t worry about brown bits forming on the bottom of the pan, it will come up when you deglaze the pan with the wine, and it adds a ton of flavor to the sauce.*
Add the tomato paste, and make sure it is fully incorporated into the meat and veggie mixture. Cook about 4 to 5 minutes until it is brown. Add the red wine. Cook until another 4 to 5 minutes, which will allow the wine to reduce. Add the pureed tomatoes and make sure they are fully incorporated.
Add 2 to 3 cups of water to the pot (you can use the empty tomato puree can) and toss in the bay leaves. Stir to combine everything in the sauce completely. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. The water will evaporate and as it does, add more water, another 2 to 3 cups at a time. Make sure to taste the sauce along the way, you’ll probably need to add more salt as the water evaporates. Let the sauce simmer for at least an hour (in which case you’ll probably only need the first 2-3 cups of water), or up to 4 hours (in which case you’ll need to keep adding water as the sauce reduces).
Toss the sauce with your thick pasta of choice in the warm pot (whatever you cooked the pasta in) before serving.