Until recently, I was under the impression that bolognese sauce was any sort of red sauce (e.g. marinara) with some sort of ground meat stirred in. I have learned that his is not the case and that it is a point of contention for Italian chefs. Apparently, “hundreds of Italian chefs” have come together and agreed that this recipe is the correct one. Unfortunately, I found that link after I had made the version below, but mine is not too far off. Mine was also delicious, whatever that counts for.
Bolognese starts with a fat (in my case, bacon), some vegetables (onion, carrot, celery and mushrooms in mine), some wine, a tomato element, ground beef and beef stock. The end result is not very tomatoey at all, but is packed full of the rich flavours of all of its ingredients, none overpowering the others, as they’ve simmered and bubbled away together into a delectable sauce.
Traditional bolognese is apparently supposed to be served with tagliatelle or other thick pasta. However, I had spaghetti on hand, so spaghetti it was. I’ve also broken with tradition by throwing some strips of roasted red pepper in the mix. As I’ve said before regarding breaking with tradition or authenticity: if it tastes good, do it. I find the rich, hearty, meaty sauce and the starchy pasta benefit greatly from the bright sweetness of the red peppers. Top the finished product with some shaved parmesan and fresh flat-leaf parsley and you have a wonderful, comforting meal that manages not to be too heavy.
The recipe I used was adapted from The Main cookbook by the late Anthony Sedlak who unfortunately passed away far too young in 2012 at age 29. I really enjoyed watching him on his TV show (also called The Main), and I have made many things from this cookbook with fantastic results. He was so talented, and his death was truly a loss. I haven’t deviated too far from his bolognese recipe, although I have simplified it slightly so that I could use fewer pans. Please enjoy.
- 1 and ½ lbs. lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 slices bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 cup button mushrooms, diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 4 cups beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- Salt & pepper
- Piece of rind from parmesan cheese (optional)
- 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb pasta (I used whole wheat spaghetti, but linguine or tagliatelle would be great too)
- Shaved parmesan and chopped flat-leaf parsley, for serving (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- In a frying pan or saute pan, cook the ground beef until brown, about 5-8 minutes, draining any excess fat. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. Set aside.
- In a large saute pan or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped bacon and cook until starting to brown and crisp. Add onion and cook until translucent; add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more. Toss in the celery, carrot and button mushrooms and continue cooking until vegetables are soft. Add tomato paste and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Pour in the red wine, scraping any bits of bacon or vegetables that are clinging to the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock, cooked beef, bay leaf, pepper flakes, parmesan rind, and salt & pepper to taste.
- Simmer sauce on low, stirring occasionally until it is reduced and thick, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Meanwhile, roast the red peppers: Toss the red pepper strips with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt & pepper to taste. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 8 minutes, stir, then roast another 5-8 minutes until the pepper strips are soft and caramelized.
- Cook the pasta: While the sauce is simmering and the peppers are roasting, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.
- To serve: Discard the bay leaf and parmesan rind from the sauce. Toss the sauce with the pasta in the serving bowl. Top with roasted red pepper strips, shaved parmesan, and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.