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it’s about time

Recipe: bolognese sauce

This weekend’s storm dumped 14 inches of snow on our local hill and almost as much at our house. For the first time in a long while, we were able to ski tour right out our front door, through the neighborhood, and to the trails. The snow swallowed the usual sounds and echoes, leaving the mountains extra quiet, soft, and contemplative.

it snowed all day saturday

poof balls of snow everywhere

What happened next? We lost an hour of sleep and hit the slopes the following morning along with ALL of Boulder County. I generally avoid the resorts on weekends, but we’ve been so starved for powder that it’s hard to pass up even on a Sunday morning. It was totally worth it for the powder stashes. By twilight, I realized that the time shift meant I had one less hour in the evenings than I’ve been used to. Oh, but then there is the lure of evening dinners on the deck when faces are still lit by the glow of a sun that has long dropped behind the mountains. It’s all good in my book, the book of Jen.

In anticipation of the storm (I follow the snow forecasts like a boss) and of Jeremy’s return from travel this weekend, I decided to tackle a recipe that is long on stove time and big on returns – bolognese sauce. It’s one of my favorites and sounded perfect after an afternoon of ski touring. I looked at several recipes before remembering that I had this book on Italian cooking that I bought on a lark in my last year of college (uh… 21 years ago). It’s by Marcella Hazan and her bolognese recipe looked spot on. Also, David Leite sang the praises when he made it. Word.

carrots, celery, onion, butter, white wine, diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, olive oil, milk, veal, beef, pork

small dice

carrots, onion, celery

If you’re in a rush, then this bolognese sauce is not for you… or perhaps it is. Maybe it’s just what you need. This is a time investment and the return is a deep, rich, developed flavor that comes to those who are patient enough to simmer and stir and simmer and stir and simmer, simmer, simmer. I chopped my vegetables in a small dice because I wanted them to break down in the sauce, but if you like chunkier sauce, then go for a larger dice. The recipe calls for vegetable oil, but I used olive oil instead and it worked just fine. Oh, David cautions against using cast-iron pots for the sauce because the reaction of the metal to the acidity turns the sauce an unappetizing color. He uses enameled cast-iron in his post and I used stainless steel.

sauté the onions in butter and oil

sauté the diced vegetables

add the meats (pork, veal, beef) and brown

Those first steps were pretty straightforward and quick: sauté the onions, the rest of the diced vegetables, and brown the meat. Be sure to sprinkle a large pinch of salt on the meat when you add it to the pan as Hazan says this extracts the juices which helps in developing the awesomeness of the sauce. Next you add the milk and let it simmer away (simmering away is not the same as boiling away). That took me 45 minutes with frequent stirring to prevent sticking or burning on the bottom of the pan. I wasn’t expecting it to take that long to cook off all of the liquid. Like I said – don’t rush this thing. Grate some nutmeg into the pot.

pour the milk

fresh grated nutmeg

When I set out to make something that requires so much time and babysitting, I often consider doubling the recipe. Sometimes that doesn’t work (like with jams), but in this case it totally works and I totally did it. If you have too much (can you ever have too much?!) you can refrigerate the sauce for up to 3 days or freeze it. Lovely.

doubling the recipe requires just over half a bottle of a dry white wine

and into the pot it goes to simmer… simmer…

The same deal applies to the wine as applied to the milk. Bring it to a gentle simmer and let the liquid bubble away completely. That took me another 35 minutes with occasional stirring. When the wine has simmered down to nothing, it’s tomato time. I initially used two jars (four cups) of my canned diced organic tomatoes from last summer, but added a third jar (two more cups) to balance out the carrots.

last but not least: tomatoes

simmer it dooooooooown

Hazan instructs the reader to simmer for three hours – at the lowest of lowest simmers – stirring every so often (maybe 10-15 minutes). She then says four hours would be better. I definitely wanted my sauce to be a better sauce, so I went for the four hours, which brought the sauce to a total of seven hours. Kaweah likes to sleep in the middle of the kitchen floor whenever there is meat on the counters, in the oven, on the stove. And so she was there for seven hours minus a few minutes for a potty break outside. I couldn’t get her to leave and it’s no wonder, the entire house smelled good enough to eat. After the last hour of simmering, the sauce was thick and nearly uniform in color. There is a delightful tang that accompanies the complexity of the sauce. Everything falls apart in your mouth because it has been simmered to the nth degree of tenderness. The only thing left was to boil some pappardelle (my favorite pasta to eat with bolognese sauce), top with some sauce (a little goes a long way), grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, and pour Jeremy a glass of wine.

proper bolognese sauce on pappardelle

worth the seven hours

Bolognese Sauce
[print recipe]
from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

*Note: I doubled the recipe and used Hazan’s pork variation, but also added veal as was used in this ragù.

2 tbsps vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
6 tbsps unsalted butter
1 cup onion, small dice
1 1/3 cups carrot, small dice
1 1/3 cups celery, small dice
1/2 lb. ground beef chuck (80% lean – no leaner)
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground veal
2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups dry white wine
3-5 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes with juices, diced (I used home canned diced organic tomatoes)
3 lbs. pasta (I like pappardelle)
2 tbsps butter (to toss with pasta)
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Place the oil, butter, and onion in a large pot (don’t use cast-iron, but enameled cast-iron is okay as is any heavy-bottomed pot – I used stainless steel) over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it is translucent, then add the carrot and celery. Stir the vegetables for about 2 minutes. Add the ground meat, a large pinch of salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Brown the meat and break any clumps into small pieces. Pour the milk into the pot and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid has cooked away completely (took me 45 minutes). Stir in the nutmeg. Add the wine and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has evaporated (about 30 minutes), then add the tomatoes, stirring well to mix everything together. When the sauce starts to boil, reduce the heat to barely a simmer. Let the sauce cook uncovered for 3 hours (or more), giving it a stir every now and again. If all of the liquid boils off before the cooking time is done, stir in 1/2 cup of water and continue to simmer. Repeat as necessary. By the end, there should be no liquid left. Season with salt to taste. Makes 4 cups of sauce. Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for 3 days or frozen.

Prepare the pasta al dente, drain, and toss with 2 tablespoons of butter. Serve 1/3 cup of bolognese sauce for approximately 4 ounces of pasta with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side. Serves 12.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

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27 nibbles at “it’s about time”

  1. Susanne says:

    It’s pictures like these that make me reconsider being a vegan. For real.

    Beautiful, as always!

  2. Kristin says:

    Mmmm…I will look for a long, lazy day when I can make this.

  3. Flavia says:

    Bravissima Jen! Marcella Hazan is one of the best authorities on Italian cooking and I have been learning many recipes from her cookbook, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. A Bolognese Sauce made with milk is known as “ricetta antica” (old recipe) versus the “ricetta tradizionale” (traditional recipe), which does not use milk. Both are delicious regardless. We must have been sharing brain waves because I, too made Bolognese Sauce this past weekend–a recipe from one of Lidia Bastianich’s cookbooks. Some of it made its way into a homemade Lasagna Bolognese for Saturday night dinner. Hope Miss Kaweah got a little taste, too! xo

  4. Elle says:

    I love Bolognese and my husband was just asking me to make it again. Just to be clear, the measurements above are the doubled ones? I’d definitely double it, since we’re a family of six and I love leftovers!

  5. Kara says:

    This is my go-to recipe for bolognese! It is absolutely delicious, and it freezes so well! I serve it over spaghetti squash for my carb-conscious husband, and the sauce is rich enough that no one even notices there aren’t noodles under there. Yum!!

  6. Rachael @ Set the Table says:

    This looks SO GOOD! We only got about 5 inches here in Wheat Ridge. Not quite as impressive as your pile up but it was gorgeous nonetheless. And now we’re expecting 74 degrees on Friday! I’ll probably never get used to this Colorado crazy weather. At least it is never boring!

  7. Liz N. says:

    We got 5″ in my neighborhood in Parker, but chose to stay indoors all day Saturday. This recipe would’ve been the perfect excuse to make a simmering 7 hour bolognese sauce! I cannot imagine how good your home smelled. How did you manage to resist diving into this pot and bathing in it?!

  8. MaryW says:

    I’m so jealous you guys got so much snow. We didn’t get anything down here in Colo Spgs :(. That Bolognese looks great. I’m going to have to try it!

  9. Bri says:

    I too spent several hours this past weekend making bolognese sauce and then lasagne bolognese with fresh pasta. A labor of love indeed, but so worth it in the end.

  10. Abbe@This is How I Cook says:

    She is a goddess, isn’t she? I’ve made this, too. It definitely does not disappoint. But then neither does anything of hers that I have ever tried.

  11. farmerpam says:

    Thanks for reminding me of my little old Italian Gram. It’s been years since she passed, but I’ll always remember her cooking…..

  12. zingara says:

    bologna is in the far north of italy & my parents came from farther south [naples & bari], so we never had this dish in our home. the northern cuisine is much different from that of the more southern regions. most milk that was produced in the south went for making the grand cheeses of the south. again, the northern cities are more famous for their cheeses…i suppose more land up there is available for dairy farming. the recipe for “salsa bolognese” is really worth a try. you & jeremy are well suited to be together. you have a lovely little family w/ sweet kaweah completing the circle. may god continue to bless all of you.

  13. Chef Veronica says:

    This ragu looks delicious, what type of wine did you pair with Jen?

  14. Carla says:

    Having this in the freezer is better than money in the bank!!! Soooooo very good and worth the time investment!

  15. jenyu says:

    Susanne – wow, that is a BIG compliment :) xo

    Kristin – that is precisely the best kind of day for it!

    Flavia – oh, I love you! Thanks for the lesson. I know so very little about Italian cooking and what better way to learn from a sweet friend like you :) xoxo

    Elle – yes yes, they are doubled from the original recipe (but David Leite doubled his too, and so I don’t feel like such a pig!!). And you can freeze any sauce that’s leftover (but we didn’t have any leftover!!) ;)

    Kara – what a great idea. I agree, it’s so good it could go with pretty much anything!

    Rachael – I think being in the mountains, the snowy weather is a little more consistent, but yes, it’s cray cray.

    Liz – it was tough… really tough. I kept myself from jumping in for the sake of the final photo ;)

    Mary – CO snow and weather can be so fickle!

    Bri – absolutely!

    Abbe – oooh, that makes me excited to try more of her recipes :)

    farmerpam – awwww <3 I always say that grandmas are THE BEST.

    zingara - you are so sweet. thank you xoxo

    Chef Veronica - Jeremy opened a 2010 Piculit Neri, an Italian red that you can only get in SF or Colorado (go figure). It's a lovely wine, but we both felt it didn't quite live up to the bolognese. Probably should have gone with something bigger and bolder as the sauce is so deep and complex.

    Carla - ha ha, great way to think of it!

  16. jill says:


  17. Rowena says:

    Oh Jen, thank you thank you thank you! I finally got around to making this (I’ve been craving a “real” bolognese sauce since a wonderful dinner alone in Sienna one night) and it was simply amazing. So worth the time! To be perfectly honest, I cheated a bit. With the kids, we rarely are in the house and awake for 6-7 hours at a time. So, I did the veggies/meat/liquids part one night, put it in the fridge with the tomatoes, and then did the final 3 hours the next day. I presume this reduces the shelf life, but at least there was no discoloration and the final product was amazing!

  18. David Leite says:

    Gorgeous. Word.

  19. marnola says:

    Hi there, making this now! So excited. Question though…no garlic? :-)

  20. jenyu says:

    marnola – nope! i wondered about it too the first time, but the results are sublime, even without the garlic :)

  21. Deborah says:

    Right now I’m at the milk simmer stage for this recipe. This is my third batch and will not be my last. We love love love this recipe so I make a triple batch and all except for sautéeing the vegetables and browning the meat takes place in my slow cooker. Many thank for sharing!

  22. Pasta with Bolognese Sauce - Food Banjo says:

    […] Adapted from this recipe on: Use Real Butter […]

  23. Jen says:

    That looks amazing! Will definitely be trying this out in the near future :)

  24. Michelle says:

    I made this sauce today
    Not realizing the recipe was doubled so I doubled again! But that’s fine for the amount of time it takes to cook might as well have leftovers. The only thing I didn’t have was the nutmeg….definitely next time

  25. Taryn Dinsmore says:

    I got soooooooo many compliments from this recipe last night at our “Cousin’s Christmas Party!” I’m glad I started when I did or it wouldn’t have been finished on time. It took me nearly the whole day and we ate at 6:30pm, but it was worth the wait! Thank you!

  26. Sarah says:

    Could not find whole nutmeg can sub in ground?

  27. jenyu says:

    Sarah – yes!!

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