Last night, at the tail end of Sasha’s 7th-birthday party, Jean whipped up dinner for the last couple of the kid’s friends still hanging out. She made, of course, spaghetti bolognese, using the sauce that I whip up in large batches each month, then freeze in small Ziploc snack packets. The kids, well, they loved it—and even asked for more. Their moms, who were hanging out too, seemed impressed, so I figured I’d share the recipe.
This is, first of all, a super-basic bolognese sauce. I don’t think there are any weird twists in there, although whether your Emilia-Romagnese nonna would agree with my choices is, well, I don’t care. Here ya go:
- 2 lbs. ground meat (I prefer a pork-and-beef mix, but you could go all beef, add in some veal, or switch up to lamb)
- 5 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced
- 4–5 celery stalks, diced
- 2–3 large carrots, diced
- 6 large cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 4–6 thick twigs fresh thyme
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I prefer Sclafani brand because its ingredients are just “tomatoes, salt”)
- 3/4 C. white wine
- 3/4 C. whole milk
1. In a dutch oven over high heat, brown the meat in two batches, seasoning it with 1 tsp. salt and breaking it up once it’s developed a crust, about 5 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon, so that the fat drains back in, and reserve.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the butter. When it’s done frothing, add the onions, celery, and carrots (this mix is called a mirepoix), plus 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until the veggies have cooked down a bit and the onions are on the verge of caramelizing, about 8–10 minutes.
3. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cook 1 minute more. Put the meat back in and stir to combine.
4. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and 1 tsp. salt. At first, this won’t seem like nearly enough tomatoes to make this a sauce, but after a minute or two, everything will be nice and crimson.
5. Stir in the white wine and milk. When the sauce starts bubbling furiously, cover with a heavy lid and turn heat to as low as possible (you may have to change burners for this). Cook at least 3 hours, preferably 4 or 5. However long you cook it, do it until the fats have started to separate out from the rest of the sauce—this is a good way to know when it’s generally ready.
6. When it’s finally done (or you can wait no longer), pluck out the thyme stems; the cooking should have removed the leaves from them already. I usually then let the pot cool and spoon it out into Ziploc baggies; about 8 of the “snack” sizes, each of which holds enough sauce for 2 kiddie portions, or 1 adult portion.
Variations: In summer, I like to add a diced zucchini to the mirepoix and skip the milk.
The last, but possibly most important, thing to know about this recipe is: Make sure you get to eat some yourself! It’s pretty damn tasty, but your kids can easily consume the whole batch without your ever getting a spoonful. And then you’ll have to make another pot. Which maybe isn’t so terrible, come to think of it.
Anyway, let me know it goes for you…