Note: The following is a departure from my usual sweet baking posts to a savory dinner recipe. A friend told me to blog about "meat," so here goes!
Once in a while a weekend rolls around when you just want to stop, press the rewind button, and start over. This was one of those weekends. Since I couldn't find one of those universal remotes a la Adam Sandler in that awful 2006 movie "Click" (what was Christopher Walken thinking??), I did what I do when the going gets tough - went into hyper-drive to distract myself. Admittedly not the most mature or sophisticated way to deal with things, but it gets the job done most of the time. The weather yesterday was terrible, so it wasn't until Izzy and I woke to a gorgeous fall Sunday that the hyper-activity began.
I made coffee and had a piece of apple cake that I threw together on Saturday (I used less sugar this time - still great!). Izzy and I went off to the dog run at the Natural History Museum park. We walked around the Crafts Fair. We tried to go to the farmers market but no dogs allowed at P.S. #44. We went home. I went for an 8 mile run through a blazing Central Park (leaves have turned!). I went back to the farmers market and picked up ingredients for dinner as well as several ornamental cabbages for my winter flower boxes. I planted my new cabbages. I went to the grocery store for last minute fixins (Honey Bee Haagen Dazs included), and then came home to start a 4-hour recipe for pasta bolognese.
A couple weeks ago my friend Nadine made an out-of-this-world dinner for the Cullen contingent of NYC, and I had to have the recipe for her bolognese. I swear I've never had a meat sauce that good outside of a Batali restaurant and she was kind enough to share her secret. Turns out it's from one of my other favorite NYC chef's - Anne Burrell of Centro Vinoteca. I had my birthday dinner there a few years ago and in addition to a fantastic wine list, Anne's small plates are delicious. Seeing her recipe for an uber-reduced bolognese that called for an entire bottle of wine was all it took to settle into my closet-kitchen for a long 4 hours of stirring and reducing (and by 4 hours... I mean close to 6).
This is a hearty, complex, layered meat sauce, and after Annabelle and I scooped into it for supper, I let it go for a while longer on the burner. While cleaning the dishes I licked the spoon I used to ladle it into a fridge-proof bowl... wow. Even better than over my rigatoni a couple hours earlier. All of the Food Network reviewers said it: it's worth the ridiculous amount of time to get the big flavor. I rarely eat pasta at home, but having this in my freezer ready to get into at a moment's notice might change all that.
I don't have a photo of the finished product because it just looks like red meat sauce (a little browner than red) over pasta, so imagine the best bolognese you've had at a restaurant and then double the flavor factor. Totes TDF.
Anne Burrell, courtesy of the Food Network
1 large onion, or 2 small, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch dice
4 cloves garlic
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds ground chuck, brisket, or round
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups hearty red wine, such as Chianti or Cabernet
3 bay leaves (I left these out)
1 bunch thyme, tied in a bundle
1 pound spaghetti (I used Rigatoni)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Brown the beef and don't rush this step. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes.
Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 2 to 3 cups at a time. Don't be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. This is where big rich flavors develop. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed (you probably will). Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
During the last 30 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat to cook the spaghetti. When the water is at a rolling boil add the spaghetti and cook for 1 minute less than it calls for on the package. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. While the pasta is cooking remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pot and reserve. Drain the pasta and add to the pot with the remaining ragu. Stir or toss the pasta to coat with the sauce. Add some of the reserved sauce, if needed, to make it about an even ratio between pasta and sauce. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook the pasta and sauce together over a medium heat until the water has reduced. Turn off the heat and give a big sprinkle of Parmigiano and a generous drizzle of the high quality finishing olive oil. Toss or stir vigorously. Divide the pasta and sauce into serving bowls or 1 big pasta bowl. Top with remaining grated Parmigiano. Serve immediately.