I know, everyone has their own version of a good old red sauce for pasta….even me. But I married an oily bohunk by the name of Guido. And a New York Italian by the name of Guido must have a decent gravy, am I right?
You’d think that he would’ve learned at his Nonna’s knee, but he didn’t. In fact, he didn’t learn to cook from his Nonna–or Grandma Fannie–at all. That’s Fannie, below. Ain’t she sweet?
She had absolutely no idea who we were, she kept asking him “who are you again?” He would say “Ken’s son” and she would be appeased for another 10 or 15 minutes. What I find hilarious is that the entire family looks identical–she could probably have just called everyone “honey” and gotten away with it.
You see, Guido grew up mostly in Germany, the spawn of an army wife, and he didn’t get to spend much time with any of his NY relatives. Instead, he got to ski, drink beer at 14, see lots of rock concerts and somewhere in there learned to cook….schnitzel. And rouladen.
Back to spaghetti. You know what? This is the first thing that Guido ever cooked for us when we were dating, now that I think about it. The kiddos and I lived in a cute little 1904 house in midtown and when G and I started going out he came over and made dinner for us. This bolognese. I think that might have been when I was hooked.
This bolognese is that good. Really.
As with anything, it’s always best to have your ingredients prepared and ready to be tossed in the pot when you need them. It’s even nicer when you have an oily bohunk to chop them all up for you.
So for this meat sauce, it’s basically a half Italian sausage (pulled out of the casings) and half ground beef.
You can substitute that good Sicilian chicken sausage at Trader Joe’s with some ground turkey or chicken if you’re of the not-red-meat-eating type or use one of those fake-meat crumbly stuff they sell at the hippie/yuppie stores. I have used the chicken/turkey route and it’s good. Not the other stuff yet, but I’ve used it in chili with no ill effects so it should work just fine here as well–you’ll probably want to punch up the spices though since it will lack the flavor that the sausage has. Just use the same amounts as the meat in the recipe, below.
What I like about this bolognese is that it uses plenty of vegetables to give it flavor. Carrots, celery, onion and plenty of garlic. Add in the tomato sauce when you throw in the vegetables and let it cook down with the vegetables. Add the spices at this point too so they can release their flavors into the fat.
Dump in a can or two of crushed tomatoes (spring for good quality ones like San Marzanos, it really makes a difference) and pour in the remnants of last night’s wine. Or open a new bottle and dump in a glass or two, reserving the rest for dinner….or the rest of the cooking time.
Turn the heat to the lowest setting. Cover it, or leave the top slightly ajar so some of the steam will vent. You don’t want the sauce to boil, just barely simmer. Then just leave it alone, stirring occasionally, for an hour or two. The meat will get super tender.
And obviously the sauce will reduce. Flavor concentration, baby.
And now, because we haven’t hit you over the head with enough flavor….we’re adding half-and-half.
Really. Trust me on this.
The sauce will now turn this strange shade of orange. It’s nearly off-putting.
Do not let this deter you from pasta nirvana. Embrace the orange. Or don’t. In which case, bring it over to my house so I can eat it.
Meanwhile, boil a bunch of really salted water and cook spaghetti. Regular, thick spaghetti. Not the wimpy angel hair, or thin spaghetti. That skimpy skinny stuff just won’t hold up against this muscular and studly sauce.
If you are making a reasonable amount of pasta, not as much I have to make for starving man-children, I recommend you put the amount of sauce you are using into a saute pan. Heat. Using tongs, put al dente spaghetti into the saute pan with the sauce. Let cook for a couple minutes with the sauce. It will finish cooking there and absorb some of the sauce….making this dish even more otherworldly.
Otherwise, put the cooked spaghetti (again, use tongs or a spaghetti fork thingy–don’t drain it into a colander–you might want some of that pasta water) into a large shallow bowl. Add sauce sparingly, just to coat the pasta. Don’t drown your pasta, man. Use pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary.
Add grated cheese. A green vegetable. Maybe some garlic bread.