Friday, January 7, 2011

Spaghetti Bolognese

I've never been a fan of spaghetti, especially spaghetti with a ground beef tomato sauce. But, while I recently went through my ever-growing stack of unread magazines looking for recipes to clip, a pattern emerged. Right now, pasta with meat sauces are very popular. And, bolognese tops that list in pasta sauce popularity. So, with bolognese on the brain, I decided to see what the hype was all about. Is it just glorified spaghetti sauce or is there more to it than that?

It turns out that there's a lot more to it. I've never really been one to voluntarily crack open a jar of sauce and dump it in a pot. It's boring, though I wasn't sure why. After trying this recipe, I understand why there's an order to cooking and why a sauce that is built over a period if time is much better than a sauce in which everything is dumped in together. (OK, so I knew this before, but this recipe really drove home the point.)

I must thank Emeril and the Food Network for this recipe. Though I didn't follow the recipe exactly, the outcome was stellar. Don't be put off by the long ingredient list. With one exception (3/4 cup celery), I already had everything in the pantry or fridge. Below is my adaptation of the original recipe.

Spaghetti Bolognese

4 ounces bacon, diced
1 1/2 cups chopped sweet onions
3/4 cup diced carrots

1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pound ground beef or ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes and their juice
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup beef stock
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 pound spaghetti
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until browned and the fat is rendered, 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.
3. Add the beef and sausages, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain extra fat (leaving a little for flavor).
4. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, to deglaze the pan and remove any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan, and until half of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the tomato sauce, beef broth and sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan, until the sauce is thickened and flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and return the water to a low boil. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the noodles from sticking, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.
7. Add the cream and butter to the simmering tomato sauce, stir well, and simmer for 2 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
8. Add the pasta to the sauce, tossing to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the cheese and toss to blend. Divide among pasta bowls and serve with the cheese passed tableside. (Alternatively, toss only the desired portion of pasta with a bit of the sauce at a time in a serving bowl, reserving the remainder for another meal.)

Substitution Suggestions: The original recipe called for a 14-ounce can of sauce. It also called for celery and parsley. I didn't have celery and I forgot the parsley, but no harm done. It was still fabulous. I suppose you could use just one kind of meat, but I like the textural and flavor differences of using two types. And, the bacon is a must! Don't even think about using bacon bits. You need the rendered fat.
I had some caramelized onions left over from something else, so I chopped them up into smaller pieces and tossed them in the pot as part of my 1 1/2 cups of onion.

Lessons Learned: I really didn't have any browned bits at the bottom of my Dutch oven, but that didn't stop the sauce from having a terrific flavor. Even though I didn't add any red pepper, there was a hint of finishing heat at the back of the throat, which was very nice.
I thought it was odd to add cinnamon and nutmeg to the sauce, but don't be afraid. It really adds a beautiful and subtly spicy complexity that will make someone say, "Hmmm, what is it?" without being able to identify it. I probably skimped a little on the nutmeg because a little goes a long way.
The sauce was wonderful before adding the cream, but that little addition took it over the top to decadence. I'm sure the authentic Italian version isn't so rich, but I love what the cream does to the sauce both from visual and taste standpoints.
From start to finish, the recipe took two hours, but most of that time was spent simmering (which should be an occasional bubble and not lots of little bubbles).