"Americans used to say where there's a will, there's a way. Nowadays, it's where there's a pill, there's a way out." - - Burnt Toast

Now That's I-talian. . .

I pulled some ground beef from the freezer yesterday before work with the whole intention of making my grandmother's lovely meatballs simmered in a spicy tomato sauce, but with the arrival of unexpected company yesterday, I decided to cook one of my all-time favorite preparations, ragù alla bolognese also known as spaghetti bolognesa.

A little explanation about ragù, which isn't just a pre-prepared sauce in a jar.  Ragù comes from the French word ragoût and in Italian cooking this is typically a slow simmered meat sauce served over pasta.  Bolognese sauce is usually a mixture of meats like veal, pork or beef and sometimes sausages, but in the following recipe I will stick with the Americanized version that I was taught by a good man, friend and nine-and-a-half fingered cook named Jose.  You may remember Jose from this story I wrote last year about Sancho.

Bolognese sauce is easy to prepare and the real key is the slow simmering which gives the meat a very soft and succulent texture.  Also, bolognese sauce has a secret ingredient that turns the final product from the average spaghetti sauce into something far more divine and satisfying.

Ragù alla Bolognese

3 Lbs. Ground Beef
2 medium onions, small dice
2 carrots, small dice
2 ribs celery, small dice
6 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. crushed tomatoes
28 oz. tomato sauce
14.5 oz. diced tomatoes
56 oz. chicken or beef stock, or water
1 cup dry white wine or dry red wine
2 Tbsp. Italian Herbs (I used a McCormick brand which has basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, savory and rosemary)
2 bay leaves
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 cup milk or 1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil, as necessary

In a large pot, heat to medium high heat and add sufficient olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, add the meat in batches to brown and strain away the fat as the meat loses its pink color.

In the meantime cut your soffrito (same as the French mirepoix) into small dice and once all the meat has been browned, add a little more olive oil and the vegetables to the pan.

Cook this for 6 to 8 minutes, then add the garlic.  If you have a good crusty buildup of fond in the bottom of the pan as the photo below demostrates add a little water or stock and scrape the bottom to help lift it from the pan so that it becomes a beautiful part of your sauce instead of a useless scorched business forcing you to start over.

Add the garlic and saute a few minutes more, then delgaze with the white or red wine.

I have read and it was insisted upon by Jose that a white wine be used as is stated in most classic recipes, but I only had red (pinot noir) in the pantry so it will have to do.  Reduce this until the alcohol odor has been removed.  Also a note about tomato products:  Please do not use any products made by Heinz.  If you ask why, this is why.  Enough said?

Add the remainder of the ingredients: tomato products, herbs, sugar, salt and pepper, everything except for the milk.

Bring to a boil, skim the fat and reduce heat to a medium low simmer and cook for 1 to 1.5 hours, tasting occassionally for texture and seasonings.  Adjust salt and pepper and possibly the sugar to balance the acid as necessary.

Once this mixture has simmered for sufficient length, the meat should simply melt in the mouth, but not be some mushy goo that totally lacks texture, like a meat milkshake.  Here comes the secret ingredient. . .add a healthy cup of milk or 1/2 cup of heavy cream to help smooth the sauce out.

And for heaven's sake, please don't use any 2% or skim milk, if you do that you might as well be blowing bubbles with a straw into the sauce.  Useless.

Cook up your favorite pasta, the classic being spaghetti, but tagliatelle or ziti or really any long pasta of tube pasta will do, shave some aged parmesan or pecorino over the top, garnish with basil and a wedge of good, crusty Italian bread and you have a meal so satisfying that I dare you to keep your eyes open long after eating it.  I know I didn't.

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