My sister recently found out [read: self-diagnosed] that she is gluten-intolerant. Which is actually really tragic, because the girl lives on pasta and cereal. I never had much of a desire/need to explore gluten-free cooking and baking, but now I consider it a fun challenge. It’s a bit easier cooking-wise, especially when Trader Joe’s makes great things like corn pasta that don’t taste completely awful.
I don’t much care for meat sauce (I like my pasta meat-free) but for some strange reason, I really enjoy cooking it. I’ve made several attempts since the start of the school year, and with the help of some tips via Smitten Kitchen, I think I’ve finally nailed it. The proof lies in the fact that there is none of it left 72 hours later.
One of the things that I have learned is to not fear overcooked meat (as indicated in the photo above). I personally hate well-done meat, so I am naturally averse to a recipe that calls for a serious browning. However, having once ignored it and gotten a really strange, undercooked meat and bacon stew thing that was supposed to be bolognese, I now do as I am told. And it really does pay off, because that browning is what gives the sauce its flavor.
My version of this sauce also has a lot of tomato paste in it, because I think everything is improved with tomatoes. You can scale it back a bit if that’s not your deal. It also has heavy cream, which some say is not meant to be in a bolognese. Oops.
Adapted from several sources
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 carrots, coarsely chopped
- 2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 cup tomato paste (from a 12 oz can)
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- A sprig or two of thyme, or a sprinkle of ground thyme
- 1/4 cup (or to taste) heavy cream
- 1/2 lb pasta
- There are two options for the sauce base: one is to coarsely chop and then finish in a food processor, the second is to just do it by hand. In a food processor (if using), pulse onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until finely chopped. If chopping by hand, finely dice.
- Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil. Once it is hot, add the chopped vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until they are evenly brown, stirring frequently, 10-12 minutes.
- Add the ground beef and seasoning again with salt and pepper. Brown the beef well and again, don’t rush this step. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the red wine, cooking until it has reduced by half, about 5 more minutes. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Stir in the bay leaves and stir to combine everything, then bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the sauce boils, reduce heat so that the sauce is gently simmering.
- This is where you’re supposed to let the sauce simmer for upwards of three to four hours, adding a cup of water every now and then, and letting the flavors develop. Being the busy college student that I am, I did not have this kind of time, so I simmered it for about an hour and a half.
- Whenever you decide you’re sick of watching sauce simmer (and saying the word simmer) boil some salted water and cook your pasta. Drain and set aside.
- Once your pasta is cooked, remove the sauce from heat and stir in the cream. Place the pasta in the sauce pot and toss to combine.