Pappardelle alla Bolognese

All through this Fall, my husband asked me periodically to make bolognese.  For whatever reason, up until now, I just wasn’t in the mood.  But then Jim purchased 1/4 of an organic grass-fed cow, butchered and packaged and stuffed into our downstairs freezer.  Suddenly, I had over 60 lbs worth of reasons to cook with beef.

And I must admit that there is nothing quite like a good bolognese.  I’m always surprised at how common ingredients transform into such an intensely flavored sauce.  Something magical happens as it cooks because what you have at the beginning bears very little resemblance to the deliciousness you have at the end.  And all of this without garlic.  How can it be so good without garlic?  Amazing.

Like so many things, there are many versions of this sauce.  This is the way that I usually make it.  Sometimes I add a few more vegetables.  Sometimes I use a little more nutmeg or a little less.  Regardless of variation, it always turns out.  Because this fantastic sauce takes 4+ hours from start to finish, I recommend that you make a big batch.  The sauce makes great leftovers and freezes really well.

Pappardelle alla Bolognese

Print-Friendly Recipe

  • 6 oz. pancetta, finely diced
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup finely diced carrot
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 5 cups canned chopped tomatoes with their juice
  • additional cold water as needed
  • parmigiano reggiano
  • 2 lbs pappardelle pasta (or your favorite pasta).  NOTE:  This sauce amount of sauce pairs well with 2 lbs of pasta, or you can set aside half the sauce for another meal and only cook up 1 lb of pasta.

Makes 8-10 servings.

In a small pan, sauté the pancetta until crispy.  Set aside.

In a large pan, sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the butter and olive oil over medium heat.  Season with approximately 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.

It may seem like a lot of oil, but fat tastes good and this makes a whole lotta sauce.  Sauté for about 10-20 minutes or until all the vegetables are well browned.  Don’t rush this step.  Well browned vegetables are one of the keys to a delicious sauce.

Add the beef and break it up with a spoon.  Sprinkle with an additional 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Continue to cook until the meat is very brown.  About 10 minutes.  Again, don’t rush, well browned meat equals delicious sauce.

Add the pancetta to the beef.  Add 2 cups dry white wine and cook until it is evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Add the milk and nutmeg and continue to cook stirring until most of the milk is evaporated, about 4-5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and 1 cup of cold water, stir and bring to a simmer.  At this point, it doesn’t look like much.  It certainly doesn’t look like a cohesive sauce, but just wait until you see what 3 hours of simmering does.  That’s the magic.

Turn the heat waaaaay down, as low as it will go and cook uncovered for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.  As it gets thick and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan a little, stir in a couple of cups of cold water, scrape up anything that is sticking to the bottom and continue to cook.  I added approximately 2 cups of water every 45-50 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that it is best served with grated parmigiano reggiano which will add saltiness.

NOTE:  This sauce freezes very well.  If you are saving some of your sauce for a later date, remove that sauce now to cool and eventually refrigerate and/or freeze.

Pappardelle, a wide egg pasta, is my favorite with this sauce.  But you could also use whatever you like.  Cook the pasta in very salty boiling water taking care not to overcook.  You are seeking “al dente”.  Toss the cooked pappardelle in the hot sauce and serve topped with parmigiano reggiano.

8 Comments

  1. I’ve also done this with dry red wine which can work well. Another thing to try is a tablespoon or two of grey poupon mustard. Adds flavor without a kick if we’re talking about 2 lbs of meat. Finally, why no garlic?

    Reply
    • Hi Pusha, So you will be making this for me when? :) I agree that this sauce is open to all sorts of modification and you could certainly use red wine instead of white. I find that the red wine impacts the flavor, so it’s really a judgement call depending on what you like. Regarding the garlic, most traditional bolognese sauces don’t include it. I suspect it is a regional issue, but a slow cooked bolognese is amazing, even without this ubiquitous seasoning. However, I do LOVE garlic, so I make up for the absence in the sauce by serving bolognese with garlic bread. — H

      Reply
  2. This looks delicious! I am going to try it this weekend! Thanks!

    Reply
  3. You are absolutely right – there IS nothing quite like a good bolognese sauce. I’ve never tried my hand at one but seeing your recipe makes one seem very doable. And yummy. Let’s not forget yummy! Your pictures are beautiful, too!!

    Reply
  4. Great dish! Pasta freezes great if it’s bagged and frozen while steaming hot; defrosted on low in a microwave in it’s bag works fine.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the pasta tip! — H

      Reply
  5. I must say, I adore this recipe. I’ve used it 3 times already and the 4th batch is on the stove as I type. I do have a few changes I’ve made. In order to make it a one pot meal I saute the pancetta in my dutch oven and leave the rendered fat in there to use in place of some of the butter and olive oil. I also use a beef/pork/veal mixture instead of just beef and I add a large clove of garlic, minced. It turns out beautifully every time and has become one of my favorite meals. Looking forward to eating the leftovers every day this week.

    Reply
    • So glad you like it. Your modifications sound delish! – H

      Reply

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