Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stocking the Freezer When It's Freezing Out: Bolognese Sauce

Happy New Year! My New Year's resolution is simple: to post more blogs. Did anyone notice how I fell off the blogosphere? While the good news is I did a lot of teaching this fall, the bad news is if I'm teaching more, I'm writing less.

But I'm back and have a long list of recipes I want to share. Having grown up in the Midwest, I am feeling this cold weather snap acutely. And when it's cold outside, I focus on slow cooking inside. Chili, stew, soup, sauce—these are the mainstays of my family's winter diet. And a good sauce Bolognese is up there in the pantheon. 

Did my Italian grandmother cook red gravy every Sunday? No. Am I even Italian? No. But I love a simple pasta Bolognese.  There are as many variations to the ingredients as there are cooks: using beef, using veal, using pork, using a combination of veal and pork, using ground meat, using whole pieces of chuck, adding mushrooms, celery, or sun dried tomatoes, swearing by fresh tomatoes instead of canned, using milk, not using milk, using broth, not using broth, using red wine, using white wine, adding parmesan, seasoning the sauce with thyme, basil, or oregano. I've synthesized the best of the recipes I've used to make my version, which is always tucked away in the freezer at our house.

Chances are you have most of these ingredients around, and maybe you have a few hours some weekend day when some kind of game is on. The recipe spreads out the cooking over two days (it usually tastes better the next day), but it can easily be done in one. So get this on the stove. And if you decide to throw in some mushrooms, I'm not going to stop you. 

Long Cooking Bolognese
Makes about 12 cups

2 T. olive oil 2 to 2 1/2 lb beef, chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into about 1-2 inch cubes
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 t. oregano
1 c. red wine
3 28 oz. cans tomatoes (whole peeled or diced)
1 c. broth (chicken or beef)
1 c. milk (low fat is fine)
kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

Place olive oil into a large soup pot and heat on medium high. Heat until oil is shimmery, then begin browning meat cubes in batches (you don't want them to be crowded in the pot). Brown all sides of the meat, then remove pieces to a bowl. Repeat until all meat cubes are browned.

Add onions and carrots to the pot. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and softened. Add wine and stir up the browned bits in the pan. Add minced garlic, bay leaves, oregano, tomatoes, and meat back into the pot. Heat until just bubbling (not a hard boil), and then simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Take off the heat and cool, then place in the fridge overnight.

Remove from the fridge. Spoon off any fat that has congealed on the surface and remove the bay leaves. Remove pieces of meat from the sauce, and use your hands to shred into small pieces. If desired, use an immersion blender to blend until desired thickness (I like mine thick but with pieces of carrot and tomato still visible). Return meat to the pot and add the broth and milk. Heat on medium heat until just bubbling, then simmer, uncovered, for one hour, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks or in the freezer for 3 months.