Nothing is more satisfying than eating comfort food during cold weather. My version of bolognese, My Favorite Bolognese is packed with flavors but doesn’t feel heavy. The best part is most of the cooking is being done in the oven, so you can kick back and relax!
Cold weather calls for hearty comfort food. Bolognese is no doubt one of them. One year ago, we visited Boston and had the best bolognese (in our opinion) at Sportello. It was rich, melt-in-your-mouth but not too heavy. Ever since then, I have been trying to recreate something similar.
I stumbled upon this recipe from Emily Blunt on Ina Garten’s podcast, Be My Guest with Ina Garten. It is made with dark turkey meat. I made it a few times and love that it’s light but still very flavorful. The best part is most of the cooking happens in the oven, so there is no need to watch the stove.
But to recreate the bolognese we love from Boston, I made a couple adjustments. First, I use beef. I picked 80/20 beef (80% lean 20% fat). I know it sounds really rich, but you’ll be able to remove most of the fat at the end of cooking. That fat will sure give the bolognese extra flavors. Next, I added some canned crushed tomatoes to bring a little extra acidity and umami flavor. Also, I added a little bit of nutmeg. For the pasta, I used tagliatelle instead of fusilli. I personally like long pasta with bolognese. Last, I increased the cook time, which helped to cook the vegetables a little more and have a smoother texture.
Here are 3 more things that require a little extra attention:
Carrot and Celery
The goal is to get them minced. If you have a food processor, that makes the job way easier. But if you don’t have one, try your best to cut them into very small. Smaller vegetables will cook faster and blend into the sauce much better. Most will dissolve into the sauce and you won’t even see them at the end.
The rind of Parmesan is edible, but usually too hard to eat. However it’s perfect in sauce, stew and soup. It adds saltiness and umami flavors. Just add the whole thing in the liquid and let it infuse during cooking. Remove the rind before serving. Other than using leftover rind from your cheese, some cheese shops will sell you just the rind. I got mine from Whole Foods. I usually get a bunch of them and keep them in the freezer. Throw in the sauce when I need to. No thawing is needed.
For the pasta, I used tagliatelle. I love having long noodles with bolognese. The tagliatelle that I got (Seggiano) is al dente and hold the sauce beautifully. But you can use other pasta shapes that you prefer.
The cooking process is fairly easy. Sauté the vegetables, then add the meat. Break apart the meat using a wooden spatula. Since the beef is fatty, it should be very easy to do. Then add white wine and slightly reduce. Now, add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, milk and nutmeg. Last, add bay leaf and parmesan rind. Bring to a simmer and cover with a lid. It’s ready to go in the oven.
Pop the dutch oven in the oven and you can walk away. Let it cook for 1 hour (up to 1 1/2 hours). Half way through, remove from oven. You’ll see some of the fat will float to the top of the sauce. You can use a large spoon to remove some of them. Season and give the sauce a stir. Then return to oven.
Cook the pasta when the sauce is almost ready. When the sauce is done, you can remove from oven and remove more fat if desired. Then taste and season more if needed and stir to mix. Add the pasta, little bit pasta water, and grated cheese. Toss everything together. That’s it!
This bolognese is super flavorful. I love that it’s not too heavy. You get a little sweetness from the vegetables, but there is a good meaty flavor from the beef. It’s umami and so satisfying. While I was editing these pictures, my mouth started to water. I wish I could have a bowl in front of me at that moment. Although this bolognese is not the exactly the same as the one from the Boston restaurant, I see this is as a win in my book. I’m very happy with this recipe, and I’ll be cooking this bolognese for many years from now on. Hope you’ll too!
My Favorite Bolognese
- 2 small carrots (peeled and cut into 1-inch long)
- 1½ stalks celery (cut into 1-inch long)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ medium yellow onion (finely diced)
- 2 garlic cloves (minced)
- ¾ pound ground beef 80/20 (80% lean 20% fat)
- ½ cup dry white wine (like Sauvignon Blanc)
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- ½ cup whole milk
- ¾ cup canned crushed tomatoes
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Parmesan rind (about 2 x 4-inch)
- 6.5 ounces tagliatelle
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- In a mini food processor, add carrots and celeries. Process until very finely chopped. If you don’t have a food processor, you can cut them with a knife. You should have about 1 cup of minced vegetables.
- Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Adjust the oven rack to one level below the middle.
- In a medium Dutch oven over medium heat, add butter and olive oil. Once butter is melted, add onion. Saute until soften, about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celeries, cook for 2 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 more minute. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add beef and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes, stirring and breaking apart with a spatula. Add white wine. Scrape off any brown bites at the bottom of the pan if there is any. Reduce for 2 minutes. Add tomato paste, milk, crushed tomatoes, and nutmeg, mix well. Add bay leaf and parmesan rind. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid.
- Transfer to oven and cook for 1 hour (up to 1½ hours). About half way, take out of the oven and use a large spoon to remove some of the fat that float to the top of the sauce. Taste and adjust with more salt and pepper. Stir and bring back to the oven.
- When bolognese is almost ready, bring a large pot of water (salted) to a boil over high heat. Cook the tagliatelle according to the package instructions until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta. Set aside.
- 5 minutes before pasta is ready, remove the dutch oven from oven and set over the stove. Remove more fat if desired. Remove bay leaf and Parmesan rind as well. Scrape down side of the pot to remove the brown spots (flavors) and stir into sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the pasta, a little bit of pasta water, and ¼ cup grated Parmesan. Using a tong, mix everything. Add more pasta water if needed. Transfer to serving plates and top with more Bolognese sauce. Grate extra Parmesan on top and serve hot.
- For the carrot and celery, if you don’t have a mini food processor, it will take much longer to mince. But smaller vegetables cook faster during cooking and that gives the sauce a much smoother texture.
- The original recipe uses ground dark turkey. It creates a lighter flavor bolognese, and slightly more chunky. But it’s still good.
- Parmesan rind is too hard to eat and usually you discard it. But it’s actually really good in sauce & stew for extra flavors. You can keep the rind in freezer until ready to use. I got my rind from Whole Foods. They sell just the rinds. You can also check other cheese shops to see if they can sell you just the rinds. I used a piece about 2×4 inch. The size doesn’t matter too much. It can be bigger or smaller.
- The pasta I used is Seggiano tagliatelle. I like the texture and flavor. I got it from Whole Foods. You can use your choice of pasta.
- There is plenty of bolognese sauce in this recipe. It is enough for 3 servings of pasta.
- If you feel the sauce is bland, you probably didn’t add enough salt and pepper. Taste repeatedly and season if needed.