Monday, September 26, 2011

The Spaghetti Bolognese of My Dreams




In our neighborhood, there's a cute Italian restaurant that has an all-you-can-eat-spaghetti special on Wednesdays for something like $7 a person. Alan and I passed by it a few times before one day, on a whim — a crazy, carb-fiending whim — we decided to try it. While we waited, my hunger grew, and with it, my hopes and dreams for this pasta. I hoped it would taste out-of-this-world, unlike any spaghetti I'd ever had, but when it came, over-boiled noodles and watery tomato sauce and all, I realized that it was actually just like all the other bowls of spaghetti I'd ever eaten. It shouldn't have surprised me because, like all disappointing relationships, I had built it up in my head despite its lackluster track record, only to be let down once again.

I thought maybe that I would never find the spaghetti sauce of my dreams, and I started getting used to the idea, until last month when I had the best lasagna of my life. Made up of both bechamel and bolognese sauces, the lasagna was gut-bustingly decadent. But alone, the bolognese sauce is flavorful and hearty enough to make a really amazing bowl of spaghetti. We had it for dinner this weekend, and this is the one! It's also pretty simple to make with a straightforward list of ingredients, which is my preferred level of cooking involvement. 

A few notes:
*This recipe requires grated carrots. Who knew that would taste so good in a spaghetti sauce?
*Not to be brand snobby, but I recommend Barilla spaghetti as a sauce accompaniment. It's my favorite for cooking perfect al dente pasta. 
*If you'd like to watch a video on how to make this sauce before you get started, go here. Or go there anyway because I love the way Gordon Ramsay says oregano "aura-gone-o."
* Don't forget the freshly grated parmesan! 

Bolognese Sauce
As adapted from Gordon Ramsay

Serves 4

Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, peeled and grated
1 large carrot, grated
4 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 pinches oregano
~.6 pounds ground beef
1 tbsp tomato puree
1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp red wine
1 14 oz can chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in your frying pan over a moderate heat. 

Place the grated carrot and onion in the pan to soften. Softening will sweeten the onions and carrots and keep them moist. You want your onion to become translucent. Softening is different from frying — if your onions start to brown, you are frying them, so remove from the heat immediately.

Crush in your garlic and add in the dried oregano and bay leaf and stir.

Now you're ready to add the ground beef. Make a well in the center of the pan and add it in. It's really important that you don't have large clumps of beef. Take a wooden spoon and stab the pan to break up the meat. Carry on repeating this motion until the ground beef is fine. Now season the beef with salt and pepper and fold it through the vegetables to incorporate everything together. Breaking down the ground beef means that every bit of beef can be equally infused with all the flavors.

Create a well in the center of your pan and add the tomato puree. Allow the puree to sweat off for a few seconds, letting the tomato puree cook a little which helps remove the acidity. Then stir through the beef, carrots and onions. Make sure that the onions, carrots and mince are all coated in the tomato puree. You can see this as this happens — everything takes on a slightly red color.

Then add the wine. Reduce to a simmer to allow it to reduce slightly so that the alcohol flavor is cooked out.

Then add the chopped tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce and stir through. Finally add in the milk, this will enrich the sauce and add some sweetness.

Allow to simmer for 5-6 minutes.

Top with a generous serving of freshly grated parmesan cheese. 
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