By Mark Wieser
Bolognese sauce is one made with meat that is then mixed with pasta before eating. Technically, it’s called Ragú alla Bolognese. Real Italians eat their Bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, a broad, flat type of pasta. We called them all noodles growing up. And should you be wondering why there are so many different kinds of pasta, just remember – they are different simply to allow you the choice of how much sauce you want the noodles to hold. There are about 350 different types of pasta and four times as many names for them. And, yes, Gefühlte Nudeln could be classified as nothing more than a giant, filled tortellini or ravioli.
So, Bolognese is a meat-based sauce from Italian cuisine, typically of the city of Bologna. The city is the capital of the northern Emilia Romagna region known for some of Italy’s best food. It relies heavily on generous seasonings, olives, meats, fish, salumi, (the craft of preserving and salting cured meats) and cheeses. This is where Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, and well-known pasta like lasagna, taliantelle, (flat ribboned pasta) cappelletti, tortellini and stuffed tortellini find their home. It has earned a reputation for its richly delicious standing as Italy’s gastronomic capital. It is also the home of the delightful flat-ribboned pasta that goes so well with Bolognese Sauce.
In early November of 2018 we had the good fortune to spend a week in Bologna and spent time at FICO’s Eataly World. The food park is dedicated to sharing Italian cuisine with the world and invites visitors to experience the behind-the-scenes creation of Italian food and drink. As Case was attending his Specialty Food Association board meetings, Elle Fischer and I had a chance to walk its 20 acres. Bicycles were provided free to help visitors get around. Here one can discover Italy’s great food heritage and its regional biodiversity. Just as Texans seek our famous Fredericksburg peaches, Italians seek saffron from Umbria and pasta from Campania. This is a place where one can find it all. Inside 45 branded Italian eateries promote the best of Italian food and wines. At that time, pre-pandemic of course, more than 30 daily sessions on food production educated consumers and their hope was to reach 6 million visitors annually. It is one of the most unusual parks I had ever visited—all regional Italian foods and no entry fee. I hope they are able to bounce back when the world opens up again.
Bolognese sauce is essentially a stew of ingredients reduced to small pieces. It became popular in the 1700s. A recipe was first published in 1891 by Pellegrino Artusia and appeared to be simply a stew of ingredients. He was a cook at that time working for Cardinal Barnaba Chiaramonti, later Pope Pius VII. It appears everything can be thrown into this, perhaps a good way to clean out remnants in one’s refrigerator. In Germany, I would think it might be closer to an Ein Topf—one dish where everything is thrown into it.
We invite our readers to try this recipe from scratch. It is quite a process, but should you not have the time and your guests are coming within the hour, you can simply use our Mom’s Bolognese Sauce Meal Starter because we have already done all of the work for you. As we like to say with a “twist of the wrist anyone can become a gourmet chef.” Simply, brown 1 lb. of beef, stir in our Bolognese Sauce, simmer, and serve over tagliatelli and, should you wish, garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. Or one can go ahead and prepare for Wednesday’s dinner on Tuesday from scratch by simply following this recipe.
1 oz dried porcini mushroom
¼ lb pancetta (or bacon), diced
1 lb boneless short ribs or other stewing/braising cut of beef, cut into 1-2 inch cubes.
1 cup diced onions.
1 cup diced carrots.
1 cup diced celery.
4 cloves chopped garlic.
Red pepper flakes to taste
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup dry white (or red) wine or beef broth
1 cup beef broth
1-28 oz canned tomatoes, crushed.
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar.
1 tbsp Italian seasoning.
½ cup grated parmesan.
¼ cup heavy cream or whole milk.
1 tbsp fish sauce.
Salt and pepper to taste
8 oz pasta
Fresh parsley and/or basil to taste
1-Cover the porcini mushrooms with 1 cup boiling water and let soak until tender (about 20 minutes), before chopping the mushrooms and reserving the mushroom water.
2-Cook pancetta in a large saucepan and set aside reserving the grease.
3-Cook beef in the same pan over medium heat until browned on all sides, set aside.
4-Add onions, carrots, and celery to the pan and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
5-Add garlic, red pepper flakes, mushrooms, and tomato paste and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
6-Add red wine, deglaze the pan, add the reserved mushroom water, pancetta, beef, broth, tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and Italian seasoning, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, covered, until beef is falling apart—about 2 to 3 hours. (One can also do this in a pot placed in an oven heated to 275ºF from 3 to 4 hours.)
7-Mix in the parmesan and cream and season with fish sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.
8-Meanwhile, cook the pasta as directed, toss with the sauce, and enjoy topped with parmesan and parsley.
If using a Slow Cooker: Optionally implement steps 1-5, place everything but the parmesan, cream, fish sauce and pasta into a slow cooker and cook for 8 to 10 hours on low or 3 to 4 hours on high before continuing with Step 7.
Note: If there is not enough grease left in the pan after cooking the pancetta, add olive oil to the pan before added the beef and vegetables.
Option: If you have parmesan rinds, throw them in for the braise and remove them before serving.
Note: Replace the Italian seasoning with 1tsp each of dried oregano, basil, and thyme.