Traditional Italian: Bolognese / by Anthony Michael Contrino


Nothing screams Sunday more than macaroni and gravy.  Yes, we say gravy in my family, not sauce - well, usually, but I don't need to get into that.  Anyway, while there's nothing wrong with a classic, simple gravy loaded with meatballs, sausage and braciola, I'll take a slamming bolognese over that any day.

In my opinion, making a bolognese is so much easier than making gravy and meatballs.  Aside from boiling the water for the pasta, everything is done in the same pot.  There's no need for mixing bowls and frying pans.  The only time consuming part is chopping the vegetables for the soffritto (an Italian version of mirepoix.)  If chopping vegetables isn't your thing, most supermarkets carry them already diced, but you'll pay up to four times more for the convenience.  

Some notes about the recipe:

  • I like a very hearty bolognese, so this version is loaded with the soffritto.  
  • Serve this sauce with a wide noodle such as tagliatelle or pappardelle.  
  • You shouldn't have any issues finding pancetta these days.  Freezing the pancetta will make it much easier to dice.  If you want a shortcut, Citterio sells a 4-ounce package that is already diced.
  • I like to use Cento brand tomatoes.  I like the way the flavor develops as it cooks, and I swear it needs less seasoning than other brands.

Bolognese // Serves 8 - 10

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, finely diced 

6 ounces celery, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

6 ounces carrots, peeled, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

6 ounces red onion, peeled, finely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)

4 very large cloves garlic, sliced (or 6 medium-large cloves)

2 pounds of meatloaf mix (1 pound ground beef, 1/2 pound ground veal, 1/2 pound ground pork)

2/3 cup dry red wine

2 28-ounce cans certified whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, pureed with juice

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 sprig fresh oregano

1 fresh bay leaf

2/3 cup whole milk

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy.
  3. Add the celery, carrots and red onion (soffritto) and cook, stirring often until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Add the meatloaf mix.  Use the back of a wooden spoon to break up the meat and cook, stirring often, until all meat is browned, about 6-8 minutes.
  6. Add the red wine and cook until it reduces by half, a few minutes.
  7. Add the pureed tomatoes; bring to a gentle simmer.
  8. Add the herbs and simmer, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 2 hours.
  9. Fish out the herbs, as best as you can, and add the milk and nutmeg.
  10. Return to a simmer and cook an additional 30 minutes, stirring often.  
  11. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.