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Bolognese and Cookbook Redemption

February 8, 2011

What, am I crazy? I thought as I lugged the five pound bag across the parking lot. Do I really need another cookbook? Especially this seven pound, 1,000+ page monster?

Once home from the longest shopping trip ever, I strenuously flexed my arm and dropped the 10 pound book onto the dining room table. Why, oh, why did I buy this thing?

Because I’m marketing’s biatch, that’s why. I work in publishing, and I’m a sucker for a good title: “How to Cook Everything.” Seems like something I really should have in my cookbook repertoire, right? Made sense. Until I started dragging it around on the rest of my shopping errands. Buyer’s remorse set in before I reached Bed, Bath and Beyond.

I cleared a huge space on my pastry and cookbook shelf and heaved-ho the 15 pound book into place. I swear I saw the shelf sag.

And stepping back to eye the results, I noticed that the fire engine red spine goes with none of my other cookbooks, thus ruining the pastel rainbow thing I had going. Sigh.

But the clashing decor problem and my overall irritation with this 18 pound book that I had owned for barely two hours was soon resolved when I turned and saw my kitties playing on my Lazyboy chair.

I hate this chair. It’s very meh with its beigey-taupe upholstery, and really uncomfortable for shortish (5’4″) people like me: my feet don’t touch the floor, and an odd poof at the top of the chair hits the back of my head (instead of my neck), so I constantly feel like I’m about to be propelled face-first to the floor.

But, my then-teeny-kittens were really diggin’ it. Or, more specifically, diggin’ the fabric liner underneath the chair. Shreds were hanging everywhere. But that’s the not the part that caught my attention.

This chair rocks. (As in, back and forth, not as in “Woot!”) And two happy kitties were playing underneath said chair, pawing at the shreds, while other happy kitties were bouncing on said chair, causing a rocking motion that threatened to smoosh the happy kitties underneath.

Moving more on instinct than anything, I snatched the 25 pound book from the shelf and jammed it under the back of the chair. Problem(s) solved. No smooshed kitties. No disruption of pretty-pretty rainbow. Muscle pain from the shopping trip already fading into distant memory.

An inner calm returned to my world.

[Fast forward two years] [Hang in there, we're almost there, I swear…]

Weeks into Gordon Ramsay’s “MasterChef” series, he and his stoic-faced partner, Joe-something, mentioned “bolognese” for the hundredth time. Or was it two hundred? I had lost count. But I sure knew how to pronounce it, by golly, even though I’d never had it. I’d been watching Joe-something’s mother, Lydia Bastianich, on PBS for months now, and was finally getting over my yeeaarrrs-long boredom with Italian food. [I know Joe’s last name, obviously. I just have trouble associating his stink eye demeanor with his delightful mother.]

Suddenly, I had to make bolognese. It became imperative. I searched. I googled. I researched authenticity. I compared recipes, ingredient by ingredient. Nothing I found made me happy. Slumped and sulking on my couch, I spied the red spine under the meh chair in the corner. Still there, both chair and book, all these years later, even though the kitties were too big to fit underneath anymore. Hmm. “How to Cook Everything.”  Everything.  I wonder … could it … might it?


And so the story ends, with the two pound cookbook assuming its rightful place on the bookshelf (pastel rainbow ruined long ago by a string of brown-spined books), with a killer bolognese that never, ever fails to please.

And it begins, as all good things do, with the aromatics: garlic, onions, celery and carrots.
This recipe always inspires me to go all out: I always buy good cuts of meat from my favorite local butcher and grind it myself. But know that you don’t have to — you’ll get amazing results with pre-ground beef and pork.
One of the many reasons I love my tangerine KitchenAid stand mixer is the variety of special-use attachments that fit it, including this food grinder.
I usually go for the pancetta over the bacon in this recipe. But believe you me, bacon is da bomb. You can never go wrong with bacon.
I love this part, when the aromatics start aromatizing.
In goes the meat.
Aside from tequila, the only alcohol I had in the house was Chianti. Which is lovely but also kind of gives me the creeps. You’ve seen “The Silence of the Lambs,” right? 

“… fava beans and a nice keyyyanteee. (fhtfhtfhtfhtfht)”

Fresh thyme was not part of the original recipe, but it feels like the right thing to do. Thyme = goodness.
Can you believe how gorgeous a simple meat sauce can become? Three hours of cooking and it’s thick and tangy and perfect.
I told you I really go all out. Pappardelle pasta is difficult to find in my neck o’ the woods, so I usually make my own. I like the pappardelle noodle because it’s a little thicker than other shapes. Wider, too. Fresh pasta, no matter the shape or thickness, is ever so lovely in this recipe. Some day, however, you must try making your own fresh pasta. It’s hard to go back to the boxed stuff.
And now you take the cooked pasta … (whose water did absolutely not boil up and over the sides of the pot and splash all over the stove. No, sir. SoupAddict don’t play dat.)
… and you add it to the bolognese sauce.
Grate some fresh parmesan on top. Hello, pappardelle bolognese, I love you.

25 pound cookbook with fire engine red spine, it wasn’t you, it was me, and I was wrong. So let’s be BFF’s, okay?

Bolognese Sauce

Adapted with only small changes from How to Cook Everything

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1/4 cup minced bacon or pancetta
1/2 pound lean ground pork (or use all beef)
1/2 pound lean ground beef
3/4 cup dry white wine (or juice from the tomatoes – I used red wine instead, because that’s what I had)
1 (28- or 35-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, drained (reserve the juice if using instead of wine)
1 cup beef or chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 sprig thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup cream, half-and-half, or milk
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Put the olive oil in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low and, a minute later, add the onion, carrot, celery, and bacon or pancetta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the ground meat and cook, stirring and breaking up any clumps, until all traces of red are gone, about 5 minutes. Add the wine or tomato juice, raise the heat a bit, and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 5-10 minutes.

Crush the tomatoes with a fork or your hands and add them to the pot; stir, then add the stock and the sprig of thyme. Turn the heat to low and cook at a slow simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes and any clumps of meat that remain. After an hour or so, add salt and pepper. Cook for at least another hour, until much of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce is very thick.* (This sauce may be covered and refrigerated for a day or two, or put in a closed container and frozen for several weeks. Reheat before completing.)

Remove the thyme stem (leaves should have fallen off). Add the cream, half-and-half or milk and cook for another 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally; taste and add more salt and/or pepper as needed.

*Note: this sauce really benefits from a long, slow simmer — 3 hours, if you can spare it. Check it’s progress frequently, and towards the end, add small amounts of water, if needed, to keep it saucy.

  1. margaret shock permalink
    February 8, 2011 9:20 am

    Omg, how wonderful is this? My husband will love this recipe, can’t wait to surprise him..nice valentine dinner.

  2. February 8, 2011 9:41 am

    Love it! It brought a smile to my face on a cold, miserable snowy & windy day (so would some of that sauce). I have been eyeballing HTCE for a long time (the paperback version – since I DO have those sagging shelves in my pantry) – I have How to Cook Everything, Vegetarian and use it all the time. Mark Bittman is awesome in my mind. Plus – it is bizarre how many standard recipes happen to NOT be in the 85,000 cookbooks I already own. And grinding your own meat is SOOOO the way to go (I don’t like thinking about what the grocer puts in those “blends” – EWW).

  3. February 8, 2011 11:20 am

    I have been loving HTCE for more than five years and you know what, I had the measure of how reliable and accurate it was (I had never heard of Bittman before, way back then) by checking up the recipes for dishes I knew and loved – Italian dishes. Mark Bittman tells you how to make perfectly authentic pesto, carbonara and amatriciana, not to mention gnocchi, and some other Italian recipes as well . I’m not surprised his ragù (=bolognese) comes out so well – I’m drooling over your pictures, and it’s mid-afternoon here 😛

    But the next time you feel the urge to deal with your “boredom with Italian food”, just ask me, ok?

    I have a shiny new English-speaking blog! Pop in for a coffee, will you?

  4. February 8, 2011 11:30 am

    Your freshly made parpadelle looks amazing . . . and the sauce!! The sauce.

  5. February 8, 2011 12:23 pm

    Wow! You know what you are talking about! This is great and I bet it taste even better!
    I love everybody fight to keep the real Italian tradition alive. I think is so important in a reality where the word “Italian” is used in too many products, just because it’s a trend!
    Have you read “Italian food stereotypes, no grazie”? Here the link
    Thank again!

  6. February 8, 2011 5:30 pm

    I love Mark Bittmans cookbook so much I even have the iPhone app. It’s that cookbook that brought me my first fritatta. Easy Peasy

  7. February 9, 2011 1:04 pm

    I started to make this for dinner last night, but I have 5 very sick, very young kids, and DH called and said he was bringing home pizza bc he didn’t want me to have to make dinner or us have to clean it up (we were up all night with the kids), so I put my beginnings in the fridge for today. They are perking up, and this is on the menu tonight with tortellini! I am using Canadian bacon bc I don’t have pncetta (and I’m not dragging my sickies to the store in search of it). I’m also adding a squirt of anchovy paste for that wonderful umami flavor. It’s my new favorite secret ingredient. I can hardly wait for dinner, and it’s hardly lunch time!

    Have you tried the new KitchenAid pasta maker attachment? I got it a year ago for Christmas, and it’s wonderful. So much better than the old one that uses the meat grinder. I love to use it. It has 6 shapes, and we have had fun trying them out. (read the reviews at Williams Sonoma). I make 100% whole spelt pasta, and it is just delicious, nothing like the cardboard version from the store.

  8. February 10, 2011 12:25 pm

    I love a good bolognese sauce and Mark Bittman is fantastic. This sauce (and homemade pasta, oh my!) look absolutely divine! I’ll bet you discovered quite a few good recipes in that book in the end 🙂

    This is a really nice place you’ve got here, by the way. I’ll be sure and stop by more often!

  9. February 11, 2011 6:39 pm

    Love Bittman…..

    Love Bolognese

    Love Bittman’s Bolognese!

    Do you have a copy of Silver Spoon?

    It weighs approximately 130 lbs…

  10. February 12, 2011 10:30 pm

    Love it! A great post! I have such a motley and large collection of cookbooks that I also long ago gave up the colour co-ordination thing. This bolognese looks devine, especially for a wet blanket of a day like it is here today.

  11. February 15, 2011 6:51 pm

    From the looks of that Bolognese, you and Bittman are more than BFFs! And red would look bitchin’ with that tangerine stand mixer!

  12. February 24, 2011 9:32 am

    I had that cookbook and the vegetarian one in my hand yesterday at my Border’s which is closing (boo!!) and put them both back thinking, “I don’t need another huge cookbook.” Obviously, by the look of your fabulous bolognese, I was wrong. Very wrong. Going back to buy both cookbooks today.

  13. Nick permalink
    March 7, 2011 9:01 am

    Made this yesterday, and Yeow! was it good. I’ll bet I’ve tried a dozen “authentic” Italian red sauces over the years and just never could get it right. This one was perfect.

    For the white wine, I used Dry Vermouth (ala Julia). Didn’t have the energy for the homemade pasta, although I’ve made it many times with the Kitchen Aid mixer attachment, so substituted pre-made cheese tortellini.

    This one goes to the front of the line for Italian red sauce.

  14. Tom M. permalink
    March 14, 2011 12:03 am

    HTCE has been on my list since I saw Bittman’s series on PBS. Maybe this year for my birthday…

  15. Jill permalink
    March 24, 2011 3:44 pm

    You are very entertaining! I googled “fish taco sauce” and found you. Now I can’t stop reading all your other recipes and stories. I’m trying the fish tacos tonight. Thanks!

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