Monday, May 20, 2013

Bolognese Sauce

A little preface if you will.  At my current job, I am in charge of the Italian food station.  That means I prepare the daily special as well as preparing the sauces (marinara, alfredo, and pesto) for the pasta bar.  This is an area that I am enjoying very much and am quite good at, if I do say so myself.  Therefore, I will probably write a series of post about Italian food and my work at this station.

That being said, I am covering a quite tasty sauce today. Bolognese sauce, if you have not already figured it out, comes to us from Bologna, Italy.  It is a ragu, in other words, a meat sauce.  If you want to stay traditional, then Bolognese is often slow cooked with vegetables and minced or ground meat such as beef and pork(pancetta) and served only with certain types of pastas.  That is all fine and good.  I am sure there is many an Italian grandma that could thoroughly school me on the finer points of a well made Bolognese sauce.  However, I am here to show you how to make a simply and quite tasty version.

The basics of this sauce are essentially: meat, mushrooms, and tomato.  Now with those basics you could very easily make a Bolonese sauce that would be serviceable, but lets face it.  We want some pazaz!  So, what do we bring to the party to give it a little more flair you ask?  Herbs and spices to start.  Nothing helps Italian food like some nice herbs and spices.  Some black pepper and salt for seasoning, parsley for color and oregano, rosemary and a hint of thyme for flavor.  Onion and garlic will serve as your aromatics.  If you really want to get fancy, you can always add some shallots.

Let's look at those basics again for just a second.  First of all, what do I mean by meat?  Well, generally I am speaking of ground beef.  That being said, you can just as easily use ground turkey, chicken, or pancetta.  Hell, Italian sausage works well with it too.  As far as the mushrooms go, you can go wrong with your everyday white buttons, but once again feel free to experiment.  The tomato part of the equation is also variable.  You can go with ripe tomatoes you picked and diced yourself, although this would add time to your cooking.  You can just as easily open up a jar of your favorite pasta sauce and use that.
Me personally like to use a combination of canned tomatoes (Italian style or with garlic and olive oil) and tomato paste. 

So, let's get stared.  First thing, first.  If you are a culinary professional, then you are taught that before you even get started on the cooking you must get everything prepped.  That means chopping your garlic and herbs, dicing your onion and slicing or chopping your mushrooms if they have not been previously processed.  For the garlic  and herbs keep in mind that while fresh is always better, dried can work. Once you have done this you can begin cooking.  First step is to add a little oil to your sauce pan and heat it up.  Next add your aromatics (onion and garlic) and cook until they get translucent and you can really smell them.

Next add your meat and brown.  Now, you don't have to cook it all the way through. You also have the option of adding your seasoning at this point.  I'm talking about the salt and pepper and all the herbs except the parsley.  After you have browned your meat you can add your mushrooms and cook them a bit Afterward add enough water to mostly cover everything and turn up the heat to full.  This will help that water boil away while it finishes cooking the meat.  If the meat is still in clumps you can break it apart as it cooks.  One other note, if you want to reduce the fat used to cook the sauce, skip the oil in the pan and just add the water at the very beginning.  You won't get browning, but you will still cook everything together.

After the meat is cooked and the water is mostly boiled off, add your tomatoes.  I use canned tomatoes and tomato paste so that I can control the consistency of the sauce.  Too thick, add some more tomatoes.  Too thin, then more paste is needed. Keep in mind that if your sauce is ever too thin, add some tomato paste.  After you have gotten your sauce to the consistency you like, taste it and adjust the seasoning.  Just keep in mind you can always add more, but you can't really take it out. 

Now, just let the sauce simmer for about 15- 20 min.  At the end of this time, add your parsley.  The reason you add it at the very end is so that it keeps its bright green color longer than if you added it earlier.  In fact, another option is just to sprinkle it over the top of the sauce as a garnish.

It is now ready. Just serve it up over or tossed with your favorite pasta. Lastly I just want to say two things: First I have never claimed that this was an authentic Bolognese sauce.  It is just what I have made at work.  Secondly I know I have not included amounts.  This is just general guidelines for making Bolognese sauce.  But for those who need more specific amounts, well here you go:

1 Lbs meat
1 lbs mushrooms
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup parsley
1-2 tablespoons oregano
1-2 tablespoons rosemary
1-2 teaspoons thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1 or 2 cans of tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1 jar of tomato pasta sauce

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