Growing up I wasn’t that big a fan of tomatoes, and strongly disliked red sauce with my pasta. I preferred my pasta tossed with butter and garlic, then sprinkled with a couple spoonfuls of parmesan cheese. Correction: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, garlic and cheese. Look, these love handles weren’t going to build themselves.
I’d always assumed bolognese and meat sauce were the same thing; ground meat and tomato sauce cooked together. Only recently as I’ve come around to tomato based sauces have I realized how different (and friggin’ genius) a good bolognese can be. I’ve been blown away by the bolognese at Ten Tables in JP and Stella in the South End; not so much sauce, but rather a sauce-like combination of tender vegetables, meat, and tomatoes. Almost like an Italian chili served over pasta and, like chili, you can make a delicious one with pretty much whatever meat and vegetables are in your fridge.
I started out by thawing 3/4 pound of beef chuck and picking up a pound of ground pork at the grocery store. Once the beef had thawed, a couple chopped carrots, cloves of garlic, ribs of celery, an onion and some olive oil headed into ‘lil blue to saute for a bit.
I was hoping the meat would have a balance of consistent bits of ground pork and the occasional meaty thread of beef. I tried to slice the beef somewhat thin perpendicular to the grain so that it would break down into bite sized pieces during cooking. Once the onions started to look a translucent, I seasoned the meat with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg before adding to the pot.
After letting the beef and pork brown for a few minutes, I added a half pound of quartered baby bella mushrooms. Questionable whether they would hold up over the course of a long, slow roasting, but I really like mushrooms and they were in the fridge.
After cooking together for five more minutes, I added a cup of milk. Never would have thought to do this on my own, but that’s why I always do a little research before diving in. It was in every reputable recipe I saw.
While that cooked for 10 minutes to reduce the milk down, I popped open a couple cans of whole tomatoes, drained them, and reserved the liquid.
I chopped the tomatoes by hand (could have easily done it in the processor) and made sure to save the extra juices in the process.
Back to ‘lil blue: with the milk reduced almost completely I poured in a little over a cup of the finest Charles Shaw in my home.
After another 10 minutes of reducing, the chopped tomatoes headed into the pot with a little of the reserved liquid and lots of salt and pepper.
Lid went on, and the pot headed into a 300F oven for 6-8 hours. Unlike other slow roasted meats, this one will give your apartment nothing but good smells. If anything, it was borderline insanity inducing due to how delicious it smelled and how long it took to be ready.
After six hours of few activities aside from watching football and playing with Janet, it was finally time to take ‘lil blue out of the oven and peek under the lid. Don’t worry, after a few rounds of losing my eyelashes overzealously putting my face over a lid as I remove it, I’ve learned my lesson.
Gave this a good stir and sent it back into the oven uncovered for another half hour to cook off the excess liquid. Gave me a chance to boil water and cook a pound of pasta shells to an al dente texture. Let’s check out the finished botobogese.
I started out by reserving some of the bolognese to the side then stirring the pasta into the remaining sauce. When I looked up from doing this Kristi, Conor, and Trish were all giving me the nod that said, “why don’t you just go ahead and stir in all of the sauce”. So I did, and they were right.
Before putting the pot back into the oven for another 10 minutes to finish the pasta, I didn’t need approving nods to reinforce my decision to throw a couple handfuls of cheese on. Which left us with this:
The strongest flavors in the sauce came from the meats which had cooked to the perfect tenderness. The carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes had a uniform texture in the sauce with the mushrooms showing up in the occasional bite. The flavors weren’t overly Italian since there weren’t any herbs or spices aside from the nutmeg, salt and pepper, but the slow cooked garlic and tomatoes made up for that. It was really freaking good, and held up over the multiple days it took to finish that enormous pile of pasta bake.
I’ve already made this a second time with ground turkey and beef chuck and it was awesome once again. Next step is to make a pizza with just the botobogese and cheese, since that would be pretty much mindblowing.
I think I’ve over extended myself with this weekend’s food project, but we’ll see how it goes. Couldn’t be more of a stretch than the extended Leggett family trusting me with cooking them 30 pounds of turkey over Thanksgiving. I rewarded them by forgetting to remove the giblet bag.