I know, there are tons of ingredients, and the cook time seems like forever, but if you want really deeply flavored Bolognese sauce to serve to your family and friends, then you’ve gotta give this recipe a try. The original inspiration came from an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown, so he deserve’s a deal of credit for this rich and satisfying Bolognese sauce, also known as ragu alla Bolognese in Italian.
Honestly, the actual prep time is only about 30 minutes, and once you’re past the onion stage there’s not much babysitting to do, so it isn’t THAT daunting. Actually it’s a great recipe for a Sunday dinner, which I guess is why so many Italian families over the years have served dishes like this on the weekend, with mom or grandmom up early in the morning to start cooking this (and other) flavorful sauces and Italian-American favorites.
Now, I haven’t got even a hint of Italian blood in me, but I know good food when I taste it, even when I was younger. I distinctly remember a friend from junior high school who invited me over to his place one Sunday, and by virtue of my being there I also got invited to dinner. His parents were first generation Italians, and the dinner his mom served was…just heavenly. To this day it is one of the best meals I have ever had IN MY LIFE!
I remember the thick meat sauce, the bracciola, the fresh baked crusty Italian bread, the antipasti, meatballs and homemade pasta, and the homemade wine (which even we 13 year old kids got a small glass of) as if I just ate it yesterday. In fact, my mouth is watering just thinking of it. I don’t think I did anything wrong, but I wasn’t invited over again on a Sunday. Certainly I ate more than three teenaged servings of everything, so the cook couldn’t have been offended.
You can serve this with any type of pasta, but I recommend a large hearty pasta such as fettuccine or tagliatelle. Or go with penne or cavatelli. Or make large shells and stuff them with this Bolognese sauce and some mozzarella cheese. Really the possibilities are nearly endless!
- 6 ounces pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces (you can also use bacon if you prefer)
- 2 large onions, finely chopped
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground anise
- 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, 3 minced and 2 sliced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 8 ounces coarsely ground beef chuck
- 8 ounces coarsely ground pork butt
- 1¼ cups red wine, divided (choose a fruity wine such as Sangiovese)
- ¾ cup evaporated milk
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, finely chopped
- 2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Grated Parmesan for serving
- Place an 8-quart Dutch oven over low heat and add the pancetta. Cook slowly until the pancetta is crispy and has rendered its fat, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan for another use (they're good in omelettes or on top of a salad).
- Add the onion, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add the clove and star anise to the Dutch oven and stir to combine. Cook, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions caramelize, 45 to 60 minutes. You want to end up with almost an onion paste, with a dark mahogany color.
- Add the celery and the 3 cloves of minced garlic to the pan and continue to cook over low heat until the celery is semi-translucent, approximately 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place a wide 4-quart saute pan, over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and once it shimmers, add the beef chuck and the pork butt and cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is well browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to a colander to drain. Return the pan to high heat, add ½ cup of the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Allow the wine to reduce to 2-3 tablespoons and then transfer these bits and the reduced wine to the Dutch oven along with the meat.
- Add another ½ cup of the wine, evaporated milk, beef broth, bay leaves and mushrooms to the Dutch oven and stir to combine. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for approximately 3 hours.
- Once the sauce has been cooking for 1½ hours, place the 4-quart saute pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once it shimmers, add the 2 cloves of sliced garlic and cook for 30 to 45 seconds or until fragrant. Do not allow the garlic to brown. Add the tomatoes, oregano, basil, and marjoram and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, approximately 30 minutes. Add the remaining ¼ cup wine, tomato paste, ketchup, balsamic vinegar and stir to combine. Decrease the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high; add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Transfer the tomato mixture to the meat mixture and stir to combine. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, over low heat, stirring occasionally, while preparing the pasta.
If you are really feeling motivated you can make this Bolognese sauce as the base for a lasagne, or do what I do and use the leftovers to make arancini (recipe coming later) or as the sauce for a Bolognese pizza. With so many uses for the leftovers you might even want to double the recipe to make sure there’s plenty left over for later. The sauce freezes well, so as long as you have the freezer space why not make more? If you decide to give this a try over the weekend let me know how it turns out for you. And don’t forget some crusty Italian bread for sopping up any extra sauce!