When I pinpoint in my mind what I want to make for dinner, I typically do some recipe sleuthing. Depending on what I’m craving, I could have an inkling on where I can find some good recipes to consult. Or I might need to start my search from scratch if it’s a dish I haven’t attempted yet or if the idea is loosely based on a flavor or one key ingredient. I love the research process. It feels like a complete indulgence but at the same time is wholly productive. I mean…you have to eat, right? I can spend a serious bit of time consulting my cookbook collection and trusted recipe sites online. So after all that searching, I find a recipe that says ‘try me out.’ And so I do. After the first taste, I know if I’ll make it again or not.
When I first made Nigel Slater’s Bolognese sauce, I didn’t even have to wait until it was done to know I would be making it again. The savoury smell of it – I couldn’t keep out of the kitchen when it was slowly blipping away on the stove. I kept sneaking a taste here and there, lying to myself that I needed to sample it to make sure the seasoning didn’t need to be corrected. Yeah, right. I remember being so excited for it to be ready. The dish didn’t disappoint. It’s one of those dishes that you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I made something that tastes this good.”
The funny thing is, I wasn’t really on the look out for a Bolognese sauce recipe. I had just purchased Nigel’s book The Kitchen Diaries and was engrossed in it when I realized that it was time to sort out what was for dinner that night. Looking at the Bolognese recipe, I realized that I had most of the ingredients already on hand and that all I needed was a few items that I could pick up around the corner from the mini-grocers. And the rest is history. When you least expect it and when you weren’t really looking, you find the One. Now whenever I crave a rich meat sauce with pasta, this is my absolute go to. I don’t look around, wondering if there’s something better out there. I am fully committed to this recipe.
A Benchmark Bolognese
From Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries (Fourth Estate, 2005)
There is nothing surprising in the list of ingredients and this recipe is fairly inexpensive to make especially considering the great taste payoff you get.
50 grams butter
70 grams cubed pancetta
1 medium onion
2 fat garlic cloves
2 stalks of celery
100 grams mushrooms (I use about 7-8 cremini)
2 bay leaves
400 grams ground beef
200 ml crushed tomatoes or passata
200 ml red wine
200 ml stock (I use chicken)
200 ml cream
spaghetti or tagliatelle for 4
In a high-sided pan at least 12” in diameter, melt butter over a moderate heat. Once melted, add pancetta and let cook for about five minutes, without colouring much. Meanwhile, peel and finely chop the onion and garlic and stir them into the pancetta. Scrub and finely chop the carrot and celery and stir them in next. Finely chop the mushrooms and add to the pan, then tuck in the bay leaves and leave to cook for ten minutes, stirring frequently.
Turn up the heat and add the ground beef, breaking it up well and getting as much of it in contact with the bottom of the pan. Leave it to cook without stirring for a good three to four minutes so the meat on the bottom begins to brown. Stir again, breaking up the meat a bit more if needed, and leave again for three to four minutes to brown.
Mix in the tomatoes, red wine, and stock. Season with salt and pepper and grate the fresh nutmeg into the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil then turn the heat down so that everything barely bubbles. There should be some slight movement, but not even a simmer. The sauce should gently “blip” along. Partially cover the pan with a lid and leave it to putter for one hour to one hour and a half. You should stir the sauce from time to time and check to make sure the liquid level is ok. The sauce should not by dry but it is not a loose, thin sauce at all. If it looks too dry, add a bit more stock and/or wine.
Pour in the cream a bit at a time, stir and continue cooking for twenty more minutes. Check for salt and pepper. Then serve with pasta and grated Parmesan.
Recipe makes enough for four.