Friday, September 15, 2006

Bolognese Meat Sauce for Pasta

I was a purist on Italian red sauces for pasta, liking either a clean tomato-based marinara (and wrote an earlier blog posting about it) or a marinara with Italian sausage chunks or meat balls. Somehow “meat sauce” seemed crude and heavy, just loose hamburger cooked up with tomato. But I grew up around southern Italian cooking, which set my standard. Much later when I had a really elegant “Bolognese” I learned how subtle and luscious a meat sauce can be, as I will try to prove with the recipe below.

“Bolognese” [bo-lon-nyay’-zay], meaning in the manner of the city of Bologna in north central Italy, apparently really is a specialty of that area and is commonly a sauce for spaghetti. Bologna, unfortunately, also gave its name to baloney (bologna sausage) that on Wonder bread makes the horrible gummy sandwiches eaten by generations of kids at school and homeless people at soup kitchens. But dull and nasty as that cold cut can be, Bolognese sauce, by contrast, can be vibrant and luscious.

Here is a recipe for a tasty Bolognese. Although the real thing probably should be made with ground veal, I use ground turkey, which gives the same light-bodied richness. The real thing also often has a little cured pork cooked into it, like pancetta or bacon, but I sometimes leave that out. The recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta – a “short” pasta is good for this one, such as penne rigate, or maybe rigatoni. And although on pasta I generally prefer the strong sheep’s milk cheese pecorino Romano, the lighter and more elegant Parmesan, a northern Italian cow’s milk cheese, is more appropriate for this dish.

Bolognese Sauce for Pasta Tim
1 medium-large carrot
1 medium stalk celery
1 small onion
2 strips of bacon or slices of pancetta (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil (3 tablespoons if using bacon or pancetta)
2 large cloves garlic
1-1/2 pounds ground turkey (not white meat)
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or a large pinch cayenne
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, depending on preference
1/2 cup red wine
1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomato (Hunt’s or imported Italian)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt plus to taste
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 pound pasta (such as penne rigate)
Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese for sprinkling

Peel the carrot, split it lengthwise several times and dice it finely. Discard leaves from the celery. Split the stalk into 1/4-inch wide strips, and dice. Peel and dice the onion. Finely dice the bacon or pancetta, if used. In a heavy stainless steel pan, gently fry the diced vegetables and bacon or pancetta in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, until the carrot is tender. Mince the garlic, and stir it in. After a minute, raise the heat and stir in the ground turkey, breaking it up as it heats. Add the bay leaf, paprika, black and hot pepper, and nutmeg. When the turkey color has fully changed, add the wine and simmer 10 minutes. Add the crushed tomato plus a tiny amount of water for rinsing out the can. Simmer for 10 minutes, and add the sugar and salt. Simmer 5-10 more minutes, taste, and add salt if needed. Add the parsley and simmer for a few more minutes.

When sauce is done, cook the pasta in a large amount of boiling salted water, stirring frequently at the beginning so it will not stick together, until just tender to the bite. Drain it well in a colander. In a large bowl toss some of the sauce into freshly cooked pasta, spooning the rest of the sauce on top of the pasta when serving. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made it (with a few tweaks) and it was delicious! It is now my meat sauce of choice. Thank you!

2:45 PM  

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