You can't beat this meat with a stick: Quick Heretical Bolognese

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You know you want it, baby.

Traditionally, Bolognese sauce is an all-day affair, which is why most people only make it on weekends if they make it at all. I reject that, because when I want a big pot of meat, I want it right fucking now. Also, because the recipe in The Silver Spoon, Italy’s Joy of Cooking, doesn’t have you simmer it all that long, and that book don’t lie.

This version veers even further into heterodoxy with the substitution of ground lamb for ground veal, and a pinch of cinnamon to play off the lamb and add a touch of non so che cosa (that’s je ne sais quoi, or “what the fuck is that?” for you non-polyglots). I’ve done it with veal and it’s good, but the eyes of a thousand baby cows haunt my sleep. Fully-grown animals, not so much.


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Meat logs! Normally I would carve faces into them, but I want to keep this a classy joint.

The base of the sauce, as in many a nonna’s recipe, is diced carrots, onion and garlic, sauteed in olive oil (or as my nonna calls it, EVOO)* until fragrant. The meat logs are then added and browned; make sure you use a pan large enough to accommodate yer meat logs, lest they stew in their own juices. The more browning you can achieve, the better you are as a person the more flavor.

*Kidding! Kidding! Don’t strike me down with your Italian nonna mind powers!

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Booze: It’s what’s for dinner.

Look at how I managed to take a picture of the pot with my right hand while pouring the wine in with my left! I’m a fucking WINNER.

You can use white or red; I’ve done both and both sauces were yummy. Use something that you like to drink and not that crap that your cheap friends brought over the last time you had a party. You’re going to have half a bottle left over. If you’re a teetotaler, you can use stock to deglaze the pan instead.

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The soft focus hides the sauce’s crow’s feet.

The most important part is the liquid: a cup of whole milk and a 24-ounce bottle of good tomato puree. Not tomatoes from a can, not a jarred sauce, but bottled puree. This is what my mom used and what my nonna and zie (aunts) – actual Italian people in Italy – all use. And their sauces are so righteous that they could smite a heathen at 20 paces. You can find it in specialty stores or larger grocery stores; Whole Foods has an organic brand that I like. Do look for it, and keep a few bottles on hand at all times for quick and delicious ragus. Salt, black pepper, thyme and a pinch of cinnamon round out the flavor here.

Here’s the best part: The whole process to this point takes 20 minutes or so. Now it’s time to simmer, and you can let it go for as long or as short as you’d like. The longer you let it cook together the more reduced and meaty the sauce becomes, like meat with a little sauce; if you opt for a shorter simmer, you’ll have a saucier sauce. Either way, it will taste damn good.

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The remains of the day.

I let the sauce simmer for about 45 minutes (still considerably less than the half-day process often associated with Bolognese) until it was quite thick and reduced and served it over orechiette with copious amounts of grated piave. I ate a lot of it. I also brought it for lunch the next day, and had to fight not to eat it for dinner as well. It’s a traditional tasting, rich meat sauce; the carrot adds some sweetness to cut the acid in the tomatoes, and the hint of thyme and garlic is all the seasoning that’s needed. The combination of meats adds still more depth, with the lamb contributing a rich flavor. The cinnamon isn’t discernible as such, just as a warm, slighly spicy, fragrant note that tempers any gaminess in the lamb – you know something is different and you don’t know what, but you know you like it.

You KNOW you like it.

Bolognese Sauce
makes 1.5 quarts

1 medium onion, diced
2 medium or 1 large carrot, diced
5-6 cloves garlic, diced
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground lamb
2 c. wine of your choice
1 c. whole milk
1 24 oz. bottle tomato puree
2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
s&p

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a wide saucepan. Add the onion and carrot and saute until tender, about 8 minutes; add the garlic and saute 2-3 minutes more.

Turn the heat up to medium-high/high and add the beef, pork and lamb. Brown the meat well, breaking up the meat into little chucks.

Pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pot to get all the tasty brown bits up. Let the wine reduce to practically nothing.

Add all the remaining ingredients; stir to combine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer to your desired consistency; at least 20 minutes.

31 thoughts on “You can't beat this meat with a stick: Quick Heretical Bolognese

  1. Pasta with lamb sauce is the shit. It’s also my complete undoing, as I can’t stop eating it. I like a little cumin, too, and black olives, and herbes de Provençe (perchè giocano così bene con agnello.) Minchia.

  2. Bolognese sauce is probably my favorite thing that Michelle cooks. She usually makes it for lasagna but I just eat that shit with a spoon right out of the pot while it’s simmering. So when she told me she used lamb instead of veal I was kind of peeved that she would screw around with a perfectly good recipe just because she has nightmares involving baby cows. But I was wrong to doubt her because this seriously is the shit. I KNOW I like it.

  3. i have a real issue with eating baby animals. i’ve tried to get past it, but to no avail.

    here’s a question–why do they (whoever “they” may be) call baby cow “veal” (truly a much less disturbing name than “calf”) but for baby sheep, they stick with “lamb”?

    it’s conundrums like this that keep me up at night.

  4. noble pig: thanks, and i’m glad you like it here!

    courtney: and it loves you.

    peter: lamb + cumin = drool.

    claudia: yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy.

    brian: you say everything i cook is my favorite thing that he cooks.

    (he’s not exaggerating because he’s my husband, he’s exaggerating because he’s prone to exaggeration. but it’s true, this is really good sauce. )

    christine: my nonna is hip to be squared. let me know how it goes.

    weylin: thanks! you come back now, y’hear?

    LiR: do we need to synchronize our watches?

    a.grace: that’s a good question. lately, i’ve been seeing some menus that list it as “baby lamb.” which you’d think would be a deterrant, but apparently not.

    mary: oh it is, it is.

    BE: is it jesus?

  5. I normally use ground lamb for beef in most dishes because i prefer the taste. I also like to add liver to my bolognese (I know, I’m weird).

    I think cinnamon is coming back in style. I saw someone make carbonara with a touch of cinnamon. And it always goes well with tomato-based sauces. I like it in chili too.

  6. annette: thanks!

    jodi: you totally could. and then, if you wanted, you could stuff it in a rice ball with some mozzarella dna fry THAT.

    anticiplate: i wanted to eat those last three, but i just couldn’t stuff them in. orechiette are so good for scooping up the little meaty bits.

    dp: wait, cinnamon went out of style?

    i have to say, the liver-in-the-bolognese definitely scares me.

  7. that looks so perfect michelle. I actually have claudia’a lamb ragu recipe jotted down on my list to make next week, but I may have to try yours instead with the three meats. cause damn that sounds delicious.

    claudia’s recipe versus michelle’s recipe… hmmmmm. tough call. ;)

  8. Michelle, this looks wicked good! I think the lamb and cinnamon give it a little bit of a Greek feel. I have never used lamb, but I often pop a little cinnamon in mine.

    What brand of puree do you use? I have found a product by Cento called Passata (sp). It is not a really smooth puree, but it is made with San Marzanos and it is so sweet and tomato-y. It comes in a bottle and I was just wondering if it was the same thing.

  9. hehehe…’je ne sais quoi’ means ‘what the fuck is that’? hehehehe.. You’re hired as the official translator on my blog. :-) No, there’s no pay!

    Love the idea of the lamb/cinnamon here. Gotta try it next time.

  10. Uh oh. Now you got me coming over here from Varmintbites, just pretend you don’t notice the viral infection.

    1) I’ve only read the last 2 recipes so far, and I’m already hooked.

    2) If it is a baby animal I’ll probably eat it, baby animals rock. If your conscience bothers you, do what I do — I name all of them before I eat them, in order to acknowledge and respect their Aiua.

    3) The same whole foods where you can get those tomato purees is the place you can buy their beef/lamb/pork ground mix….

  11. Mmmmm….meat. Meat meat meat meat MEAT.

    I don’t do veal either. It’s not that I have anything against baby animals. It’s more that I take issues with foce-fed, trapped-in-a-tiny-stall-never-seeing-the-light-of day baby animals. Of course thanks to my husband’s delicate widdle tum-tum, I can’t use any of the above meats in a meat sauce. Turkey all the way.

    Lamb and cinnamon sound like a divine combination in this. When I do a mock bolognese, I like a grate or two of nutmeg. Everyone eats it and says, “Hmmmm…what is that?” (No, they don’t, but you had to say EVOO.)

  12. melissa: uh oh, don’t go pitting me against claudia. she’ll cut a bitch.

    susan: i usually use bionaturae, the one i find at whole foods, but yeah, the cento passata is the same thing. i like cento brand tomatoes.

    kevin: thanks!

    recipegirl: yup, milk and wine. there are milk and no-milk bolognese camps. i use the milk if i’m just making it to eat with pasta and usually omit it if i’m making it for a lasagna bolognese, which already has enough dairy of its own.

    zen: luckily, i’m perfectly willing to be paid in cupcakes.

    fuzzy: you varmint bites people are overrunning me today! i’m glad you dig it here.

    rachel: ha. i just replied to your comment on the latest smackdown post by mocking your husband’s delicate widdle tum. evil minds think alike.

  13. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » You can’t beat this meat with a stick: Part Deux

  14. Pingback: thursday night smackdown » Blog Archive » Boston II: Can I take this meal as a tax write off?

  15. Pingback: Wouter’s Blog » Blog Archive » Prep bowl

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