Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ragu alla Bolognese Nessun Dorma

I've called this Bolognese sauce "Nessun Dorma" for two reasons.  First being, "Nessun Dorma" is the meatiest, richest, and most decadent of all operatic arias, and this sauce is the meatiest, richest, and most decadent of all Italian sauces.  See the parallels?  Second is that "Nessun Dorma" is translated literally as "no one sleeps" in Italian, and if you eat too much of this bolognese, well... you get the message.  Bolognese is a dish that originated from Bologna.  I can almost guarantee many people who have tried Bolognese in many "Italian" restaurants have never really tried this sauce.  Most places break up a large amount of their meatballs, combine with their house marinara, and call it Bolognese.  EVIL!!!  Get thee behind me Satan!!!  To you demon spawn chefs who perpetuate this hideous lie I only say to you, SHAME ON YOU!  Call it "house meat sauce," or something that does not lower the name of one of the most perfect dishes of all time.  Bolognese is not a tomato sauce with meat in it, in fact it has very little tomato in it.  

This dish takes time to cook, time to prepare, and hopefully time to eat (if you savor it as much as I do), so plan a special day to make it.  Also, go to a butcher you like, and stay away from the mega mart meat cases.  If you have established a relationship with the butcher of your mega mart, all the better.  These guys want to work for you.  They are tired of doing the cuts for the masses, and love taking custom orders for people who are making special dishes.  Ask them if they have the trimmings left from the steaks they butchered earlier in the day, and get them to grind that.  Usually these are trimmings from ribeye, New Yorks, tenderloins, porterhouse, etc. and are a lot better than ground chuck.  Ask them to put it through the grinder 4 times so that you get a very fine grind.  Bolognese is much better if it is smooth rather than chunky.

3 lbs finely ground beef. (if you like the taste you can substitute 1 lb of ground lamb for one of the lbs of beef)
1/2 lb cubed pancetta (a cured Italian bacon found in the deli section of most mega marts.  Have your deli person slice the pancetta 1/4 inch thick and cut it into cubes.
1/2 cup finely chopped Mortadella (Italian Bologna) Optional
2 carrots finely chopped
1 small onion finely chopped
1 stalk celery finely chopped
5 cloves minced garlic
2 bay leaves
1 12 oz can tomato paste
2 quarts beef stock
1 cup dry red wine
1 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp dry basil
2 Tbsp sugar
fresh cracked pepper
1 cup heavy cream

In a large dutch oven on medium heat, brown your pancetta and mortadella in olive oil.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and sweat for 3 minutes.  Add the beef, basil, oregano and continue to stir as it browns.  This step takes a while.  If you let the meat just sit without continuous motion you will get clumps, and you want a very smooth texture.  As it clumps, simply break them with your wooden spoon and keep going.  When the meat has browned, add the stock, tomato paste, wine, sugar, bay leaves, and pepper.  Let the sauce begin to bubble, and reduce heat to a low simmer.  At this point I would leave the salt out of the dish until it has had an opportunity to cook down a couple of hours.  As the sauce reduces, the flavors intensify, and if you salt it too early, you may end up with a salty sauce.  Remember, you can always add salt, but you can't take it back.  As sauce cooks, stir every ten minutes or so to avoid burning to the bottom or the pot.  If too much liquid is lost, simply add more stock.  After about 4 hours, taste the sauce and if it needs salt, add it.  At this point, stir in the cream and continue to cook another 10 minutes.  Remove the bay leaves, and serve with Rigatoni, or tagliatelle.  Garnish with plenty of parmesan cheese.  Enjoy

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