In college, I trademarked a name for a particular facial expression. The one where someone becomes suddenly disappointed — where a smile turns instantly into a frown. Where pure joy and optimism becomes crushed by a shockingly less romantic reality. Back then I called it the Maria-Face-Drop. Maria was my roommate. I saw her perform this facial stunt many times.
Recently, someone asked me how I learned to cook. When I answered, the corners of his mouth dipped to the floor. The dreaded Maria-Face-Drop. In retrospect, I guess my answer was rather disappointing. It wasn’t, after all, my mother who taught me or culinary school or even the restaurant. It was the fact that I was — and am — willing to cook anything. But I think that’s all it takes to learn the craft of cooking and if I may be so bold, I think everyone should start and finish their education with a classic bolognese recipe.
I’m so fond of this rich, meaty ragu that I turned it into a class project last quarter, making it three separate times, three different ways and then by God, making it a fourth way to present to my instructor. If you’re Cincinnati-based, you may know that Nicola’s uses butter and Via Vite uses use cream. But I use one hundred percent love in this baby.
The recipe that I think surpasses all others is made, not surprisingly, with beef, veal and pork. But aha, there is a trick. I’ve never been able to get enough fat out of ground pork and so I think it’s better to use slabs of pancetta instead. I like to cook the onions, carrots and celery in the rendered pancetta fat and brown the rest of the meat later. I think that this is the path to a great, hearty bolognese.
So that’s what I did over the weekend. I made a fire outside and I let my knees get toasty while I hunkered down with my favorite bolognese recipe. The one that I’ve been perfecting over the last six months. The one that I’ve been making vats of and securing in tupperware and passing off to anyone who even suggests that they might be hungry.
It’s classic for a reason. Everybody loves it. I think even Maria would have loved it.
Tip: Serve this meat sauce over tagliatelle or fettuccine noodles. And remember, it’s a meat sauce with a hint of tomato. Not a tomato sauce with a hint of meat!
3/4 lb ground chuck
1/2 lb ground veal
1/2 lb pancetta, diced
1 cup onions, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbs tomato paste, diluted in 10 tablespoons of water or beef stock
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt, to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste
Parmigiano reggiano, shaved, to taste
Saute pancetta in deep, heavy pot until brown and fat is rendered. Remove meat and set aside. Add carrots and celery and sweat in fat for 10 minutes until onions are translucent. Make sure to season vegetables with salt.
In a mixing bowl combine the beef and veal and season with salt and pepper. Add the seasoned meat into the pot with the vegetables and cook until brown. Add back cooked pancetta and stir well.
To the meat mixture, add the tomato paste with the stock or water. Add the wine and garlic and stir well. Cover pot partially with a lid and simmer for 2 hours over low heat. Every half an hour or so, add a tablespoon or two of the milk so that it gradually incorporates.
Meanwhile, in small pot, reduce cream until it’s about 6 tablespoons. Keep warm.
When you’re ready to serve, add the heavy cream to the meat mixture and check for seasoning. Serve over wide pasta noodles and top with shaved parmigiano reggiano.