Bolognese Sauce

I am certain that this a bastardization of ‘true’ Bolognese sauce, but I kind of don’t care. I’ve read about a hundred recipes for this and, based on that, came up with a sauce that incorporates those techniques and adds stuff I like (and it was a great use of my leftover cheese rind!). It takes a good couple of hours, but much of that is inactive time, just needing a stir every so often.

3 T olive oil
soup meat, beef or pork, one large chunk (250 g/0.5 lb)
soup bone, at least one with a good amount of marrow
1 lb (500 g) ground beef and pork
onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 large or two small carrots, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, put through garlic press
4 T tomato paste
pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 t ground black pepper
1/2 t dried thyme
1 c full-bodied red wine (Montepulciano, Valpolicella, etc.)
1 bottle crushed tomatoes (680 g)
2 c chicken or beef stock
3/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 Parmesan cheese rind
pinch salt (optional)
pinch sugar (optional)
1 c cream or whole milk (optional)

In a large, heavy pot, heat oil to medium high. When it just starts smoking, add soup meat and bones, until you get a good sear on all sides of the meat. Turn heat down to medium and add ground meat, cooking until no longer pink, but not browned. Be sure to break up any large chunks.

Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Cook mixture, stirring frequently for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables have softened and shrunk considerably. Stir in tomato paste, distributing well, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add nutmeg, pepper, thyme and wine, stir well and allow to cook down until 3/4 reduced.

Add tomatoes, chicken stock and parsley, stir well and bring to a gentle boil. Drop in cheese rind, turn heat down to medium low and allow sauce to simmer and thicken for at least one hour, stirring occasionally. While simmering, check the marrow bone – when the marrow is softened all the way through, push it out and stir into the sauce. Taste sauce after one hour and add salt or sugar (to taste). If using, stir in milk or cream and continue simmering for 30 minutes to an hour more. When finished, discard cheese rind, soup meat (it will be very tough) and bones. Serve over pasta or use as lasagna filling.

*Most recipes start with pancetta. I thought I had enough meat already, but I imagine it would taste great if you really want to go crazy. The milk/cream is a texture thing. Some people feel it blunts the meaty flavor of the sauce. Nothing could blunt the meatiness of this stuff. I blame the marrow.

Homemade Tomato Soup

Cliff is a big proponent of eating grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup when the weather starts getting chilly. I’ve never been all that jazzed about it – thus far, all of the tomato soups I’ve tried here have been either repulsive or so acidic that I end up with raging heartburn. So I finally broke down and searched for a tomato soup recipe. I found a winner here, but the proportions need tweaking. My version is below, calling for much less dairy than the original.

8 tomatoes, peeled*, seeded and roughly chopped (they’re getting boiled and blended anyway)
1.5 L (50 oz) tomato juice
15-20 leaves fresh basil
2 T c heavy cream
1 1/2 T butter
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Bring tomatoes and juice to a boil over medium heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add basil and pulse in blender or process with immersion blender until smooth. Over medium low heat, stir in cream, butter, sugar, salt and pepper until heated through. Do not boil or the cream will curdle.

*Do you know how to peel a tomato? I’d always heard you’re supposed to stick a whole tomato on the end of a fork, then immerse it in boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Jesus, that sounds like a trip to the emergency room (complete with tomato-shaped burn scars) just waiting to happen. If you have a gas stove, there is an easier way: stick your whole tomato on the end of a fork and roast the tomato in a burner flame (medium high worked for me), turning it slowly to get most of the flesh in the flame for about 5 seconds (if the skin turns black, blisters or pops, you’re done – turn that thing!). Don’t burn yourself trying to get every square inch – as long as you get most of it, you’re fine. Then, quarter the tomatoes to seed them. If you roasted them well enough, you should notice the skin starting to pull away from the cut edges. You can pull the skin up from the loose edge and peel the tomatoes now.