Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Bolognese

(12/21/2014 I've updated this post to include a list of ingredients -- it's at the end! Happy cooking!)

So every year on Christmas Eve I make this wonderful traditional bolognese sauce for dinner and every year everyone asks me for the recipe. And every year I think I should share the recipe, but the problem is, there isn't really a recipe -- there is more a cooking procedure. So yesterday, while I was putting it together, I actually had the presence of mind to take photos so that I could post step by step instructions! And instead of the ten million rants about various subjects I have brewing inside my head that I could have written here, I'm posting about making bolognese sauce. And then you guys can all make it next year. Or on a special occasion. Because it is for sure a special occasion sauce -- the cooking time alone isn't for the faint of heart. And there is nothing low fat or healthy about it. And really if you're not a fan of pork and bacon-y things, this is NOT the sauce for you. To leave those out would make just a boring old meat sauce.

(Bear in mind that this ain't no food blog, so the photos that follow might not be particularly pretty.)

Step 1: Make a battuto of carrots, celery, and sweet onion (4-6 regular sized carrots, about 6-8 celery stalks including leaves, which add flavor, and 2 small sweet onions or 1 large).  This means dice them all really, really small -- I pulse mine in the food processor. Saute in olive oil on medium high in a large pot -- mine is a 7-quart, I believe (you're going to cook the entire thing in this one pot). Let it cook till it's good and fragrant. And then add 4-6 decent sized cloves of garlic (more if you're really into garlic, but not less than 4), smushed in a garlic press.

Step 2: Add meat! First, 1 pound of diced prosciutto. Decent American grocery stores sell pre-diced prosciutto in their department with the fancy deli meat and bacon and sausage. If you can't get prosciutto, I would say that the only acceptable substitute is a really nice regular bacon. But not some cheapo Oscar Meyer crap -- get some good stuff. I wouldn't sub pancetta -- it's too sweet. Let the prosciutto cook for a few minutes, till it smells really nice.

Step 3: Keep adding meat! Next, one pound of ground pork. I did use lean this time but only because that's all the store had; normally I wouldn't have cared.

Cook till the pork is no longer pink.

Step 4: More meat! Add two pounds of ground beef. I used one pound that was 93% lean and one that was just 85% and that seems to have worked out really well; less lean and you'll just have more natural broth to work with, which is fine! (If you are a super daring traditionalist, it's after this step that you'll want to add about half a pound of chicken livers. I think chicken livers are disgusting, so I would never.)

Cook till the beef browns. There should be a lot of juices from the meat now.

Step 5: Add peeled tomatoes! You'll want two large (28 oz) cans; I like Muir Glen because they are actually peeled instead of half-assed peeled. Cut into quarters and dump into the pot. Pour in the extra tomato juice too.


Step 6: Add some spices. I use about a teaspoon each of dried thyme and dried oregano.

And nutmeg! Besides prosciutto, nutmeg is a key ingredient. When I researched how to make this a few years back, the most intriguing suggestion I found was to use WHOLE nutmeg instead of ground (mostly because I am a lazy ass cook who doesn't want to spend time grating nutmeg): just drop in four whole cloves of nutmeg, and let them cook down in the sauce. They impart a gorgeous flavor without being overwhelming. Don't skip nutmeg! But make sure to warn people to look out for the cloves when they're eating. Or try to find them before you serve.

Step 7: At this point, if you are not allergic to red wine like I am, you would want to deglaze with about 1 cup of red wine. I skip the wine always and have never had a flavor issue, though.

Step 8: Add broth! You don't want your sauce to be super soupy, nor do you want it to be super thick (unless you're into that). So start with about two cups of beef broth. And yes, it has to be beef broth. Other broths would make it taste weird. As it brews, you can decide later whether or not to use more; I almost always wind up using an entire box (4 cups).

Step 9: Add a small can of tomato paste. You might add a second one later, if you add more broth.

Step 10: Stir in a few dried or fresh bay leaves. I prefer the fresh ones from the herb section of the store but they were out this time so I just used dried.

Step 11: Let it brew! Three hours at minimum, on medium low heat. It should simmer, but not boil. I always cook mine for at least six hours. Usually I get up first thing Christmas Eve morning and put it together, and pretty much just let it cook all day.

Step 12: Cook some noodles! You want a thick noodle that can hold the heaviness of this sauce. Tagliatelle is traditional, but we also love rigatoni noodles when eating leftovers.

Step 13: Right before serving, grind up some fresh basil and stir it into the sauce. 

Step 14: Eat! Share it with your family. They will love you, and beg you to make this all the time. You will hold it over their heads all year, reminding them how hard it is and how long it takes to cook it, only busting it out on holidays and birthdays. I eat mine without cheese because I can't have milk, but a little sprinkling of parmesan is nice on it too. We also like to have bread. My friend Russ swears that this type of sauce is only for dipping bread into and noodles are unnecessary; I think he has an excellent point.

Enjoy! And merry Christmas!

Ingredients List: 

6-8 celery stalks including leaves, finely diced 

4-6 large carrots, peeled and finely diced (I use a 1/2 lb bag of baby carrots because I am lazy)

1 large sweet onion, finely diced (or 2 small)

1 lb diced prosciutto (see notes in Step 2)

1 lb lean or regular ground pork 

2 lbs ground beef (can be extra lean if you want)

2 large (28 oz) cans Muir Glen whole peeled tomatoes (any brand is fine, but this one I can count on actually being peeled when I open the can), cut into quarters, and juice from the can

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano 

Whole nutmeg - 4 cloves (try to remove before serving)

(Optional) 1 cup red wine

2-4 cups of beef broth 

4-6 dried or fresh bay leaves (try to remove before serving)  

wide noodles such as Tagliatelle (rigatoni also works)

fresh basil, ground 

grated parmesan for serving