Bolognese is my favorite meal to cook when I'm celebrating. It takes a little more effort than most meals I cook, but there's something great about that double satisfaction of having things go right in life and having prepared an incredible meal. Make this on a night when you have plenty of time to let it simmer - it gets better the longer it has to cook. You don't have to stand by the pot the entire time, but will need to check it every 20 minutes or so, so it is great to cook while doing housework or entertaining.
Warning: this recipe calls for quite a lot of alcohol, which is central to the flavor in the dish, but may not be suitable for children or pregnant women unless you have a good 2 or 3 hours to simmer the sauce. After 1 hour of simmering, about a quarter of the alcohol is left, but after 3 hours less than 5% of the alcohol will remain. Alternatively, it is possible to replace the alcohol with tomato sauce, but your end sauce will taste quite different (but still good!) from the original.
This recipe makes enough for two restaurant size servings, but could easily be stretched to feed four with an appetizer or side dish. If you open a bottle of wine to make this recipe, you will have enough left over for two glasses for drinking. It will take at least an hour and a half, but the longer you have to cook, the better.
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
- 2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste, or two cans (16 oz total) tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 cups of a hearty red wine (choose something you enjoy drinking - my favorite here is cabernet sauvignon)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme, OR 1 bunch fresh thyme, tied in a bundle
- your favorite meat replacement, in the amount equal to about 1 pound of meat (I use one bag of frozen veggie crumbles)
Run the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic through a food processor to form a thick paste. If you don't have a food processor, you can chop the vegetables into a fine dice - uniformity is more important than size. Add salt to taste here and throughout the recipe - it should taste good at each step, but remember it is easier to add salt than to take it out.
Using a soup pot or a large skillet with tall sides, cook the vegetable paste (mirepoix) over medium high heat until it loses most of its liquid and begins to brown. It will look something like this:
Add your meat alternative (if you want to use lentils or tvp, and don't want to prepare them ahead of time, you can add them later and cook them with the sauce if you would like) and cook until it is beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste or sauce, and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Add the wine and cook until it has reduced by half. Add the water and herbs (at this point add the lentils or tvp if you chose to go that route), bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for as long as you can stand to wait. Add water 1/2 cup at a time as the sauce dries out. Try to keep it a nice sauce consistency - you don't want to add enough water for it to turn into soup. The flavor and textures turn out better if you add water as it's needed instead of all at once.
Warning: wait at least half an hour before you taste the sauce after you add the wine, or it will be all you can taste. I like to give it at least an hour to simmer, but I have left it as long as four hours.
Traditionally, bolognese has milk in it, which gives it a beautiful orange color. If you would like, right before serving take the pot off of heat, stir in 1 cup of your preferred unsweetened milk (I prefer almond milk), and return to low heat until the sauce has reduced back to the right consistency. This last step is completely optional though, and I usually serve without the milk.
This is a thick, heavy sauce, and it needs a thick, heavy noodle to support it. If you can find it, pappardelle is perfect. Fettuccine and thick or regular (not angel hair) spaghetti also work great.