After a week of slinging quick-cooked dinners at my family, I absolutely love having the luxury of lazy weekend days to cook whatever I feel like. I crave the opportunity to doodle around in the kitchen all day, making a recipe that just gets better with time. My Authentic Bolognese sauce is just that. One of my favorite weekend recipes - especially when it's chilly outside. It's about a 3-4 hour process, but most of the time it's just bubbling away making my house smell amazing. I imagine if I had an Italian grandmother, this is what her house would always smell like.
Once you gather the ingredients it doesn't take long at all - maybe 45 minutes to get to the point where you can just ignore it. This recipe makes a nice big batch, and it freezes beautifully. I like to serve it with pappardelle or tagliatelle, but linguine or fettuccine is good, too. Really, any noodle you choose will be perfect. My kids love "little ears" (orecchiette) because the sauce gets stuck inside them. It also makes the best (best!) lasagna. And of course you can never go wrong tossing some in a bowl and dipping really good, crusty bread in it.
**This recipe and blog post were originally published on November 24, 2013. They have been updated with a new recipe card, new photos, and a bit more text and tips**
What makes this bolognese authentic?
I'm glad you asked. I have read many Italian cookbooks, scoured the internet for recipes and articles, watched so many travel and cooking documentaries. I basically added all the recipes up and combined all of the best and most frequently recurring ingredients.
Let's break down an authentic bolognese
- meat - a combo of beef and pork is very authentic and very delicious. Veal can be used as well.
- soffritto - known as mirepoix in French cooking. A classic flavor building block. A mix of chopped celery, carrot, onion and in Italian cooking garlic and often parsley are included.
- tomato - I use tomato paste and crushed tomatoes to layer the flavors
- liquid - wine, broth, milk are all added at different times to add moisture, richness, and acidity. Using homemade or really high quality store-bought broth makes a huge difference.
- about that wine - you can use red or white. For a long time I only used red in my authentic bolognese but I really love the white these days.
- flavor boosting secret weapons - pancetta, porcini mushrooms, and parmigiano reggiano rinds all add a salty, meaty, umami undertone that can't be replicated. I love sneaking in a couple of anchovies. Shhhhh.
- herbs - important in all cuisines, but I feel especially in Italian cooking. Bay leaves while it simmers. Rosemary for earthiness and depth. And fresh parsley for a bit of brightness when serving.
A few important notes on making this sauce
First, make sure you really, really brown the meat and veggies. Like, get the meat to the point where it's sizzling and popping, even sticking to the bottom of the pan and scaring you a little. This caramelization is how you get the deep, rich flavor in the finished sauce. I often use separate pans as it allows me to get the veggies and meat going at the same time, while also allowing them to brown individually. Veggies have a lot of water, and it would be very difficult to get the meat properly browned if they were combined, and by the time the meat finally browned the veggies would undoubtedly burn. It's only one extra pan to wash... I promise it's worth it - I mean how often are you making authentic bolognese? Take your time, channel your inner Italian, blast some Pavarotti, pour a glass of wine and enjoy the process.
Yes, there is another option
BUT, having written that - you don't have to use two pans. You will start with the meat and then basically deglaze the pan with the veggies. I've given instructions for both in the recipe.
A few more tips
Next, I know this might sound weird, but I rinse the dried porcini before I soak them in the stock. I know everyone says, "don't rinse mushrooms," but 1.) I'm a rebel 2.) They're going to soak anyway; and 3.) Porcini are notoriously gritty, and I'm not wasting 4 hours making a gritty Bolognese. So there.
Also, even if you don't think you like mushrooms, you have to trust me, these will be ground up so small that, texturally, you won't notice them. When it comes to the flavor though, they are so important. They add such a depth and richness and really round out the flavors.
Same goes for the anchovies - I promise you won't taste them. My kids will read this one day and yell at me for sneaking anchovies into their meals, but in the meantime, ignorance is delicious bliss.
I promise, if you made a batch of this minus the porcini, anchovies, and parm rinds and then you made one with them all, the one WITH them would win any contest. Those secret flavor boosters really do their job and add a depth and - dare I write it again - an umami richness and savoriness that cannot be replicated.
Speaking of secret flavor boosters
One of my blogger friends over at Well Seasoned Studio adds chicken livers to her bolognese and I am definitely going to try it. Just such a brilliant flavor weapon! Here is a link to Ari's Rigatoni Bolognese.
Here are a few of the recipes I referenced when coming up with my authentic bolognese:
Perciatelli with Bolognese - Geoffrey Zakarian
Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Sauce - NY Times
Classic Ragu Bolognese - Bon Appetit
... and many more that I watched over the years or read about in my dad's old cookbooks. I think it is important to honor the authenticity and history of recipes while also making them your own. By adding your secret weapons (anchovy! chicken liver! parm rinds) or by using a technique that works better for you and your style of cooking. This was how my father cooked. He read and read, researched and learned, traveled and paid attention. Then he came home and put it all together and made magic.