Whenever I ask Jenny what I should cook for guests, her #1 answer, no matter what time of day or night, is “Bolognese.” Sure, it’s tasty, but there are many reasons why Jenny likes me to do it. Ten in fact…
My Bolognese–pardon me, ragù alla Bolognese–is a slow cooked pot of meat with carrots, celery, garlic, onion, tomato paste (not much) and red wine (lots). Salt and pepper are the only added seasonings, yet whenever it pops out of the oven, three or more hours after going in, it has this unexpected tanginess that complements the carmelized winey meat paste people tend to think of.
It’s simple, something like this (minus the lard), from Saveur’s amazing Issue #110, which–along with Bill Buford’s Heat–provides the best ragù rationale an Italo-curious food person like me could ask for. I prep it on the stove and then stick it in the oven at 350º for as long as it needs to look dark and foreboding, while filling the house with a smell that is the exact opposite.
So, now that you know how my approach, what are the 10 reasons Jenny loves for me to make it when people come over?
1. You can pretty much make it with stuff already in your fridge and freezer.
2. It screams homemade: Nothing out of a jar tastes remotely like it.
3. It forces you to plan ahead. It’s not just one of those things you think you can whip up right before guests arrive.
4. A little goes a very long way. It’s a sauce, so you think you’re not making very much, but there’s plenty in the bottom of the pot when everyone’s served.
5. For this reason, there are always leftovers. Even three stray spoonfuls will do fine for tomorrow’s lunch.
6. It’s “healthy.” That is, if you substitute beef and pork with venison, buffalo, or dare I even suggest it, ground turkey, then fatten things up for the slow braise with heart-friendly olive oil. (I’m not just talking out of my ass here: The Bolognese shown up top there is one I recently made with buffalo meat, and last summer we did one with venison as well. The key, I find, is managing that fat level. If it glistens, it’s gold.)
7. You can smother it with cheese, and it only gets better.
8. It’s highly scalable. Unlike a steak, with its imposing set portions, or like sushi, which won’t keep if it doesn’t get eaten, this stuff can be doled out or held back depending on demand alone.
9. It’s monolithic. I’ve made Japanese or Indian dinners where I’m prepping like three main dishes and five more sides. Only thing you need to serve with a Bolognese is a salad.
10. Well, a salad and homemade pasta. Yes, making Bolognese gives me an excuse to bust out the Kitchen-Aid mixer accessories, and press out some homemade pasta. (OK, you caught me–that is actually one of the things Jenny doesn’t like about it, as I always make homemade pasta after people arrive, and I tend to make a damn fool out of myself for half an hour before strands of what can be loosely classified as pasta start to roll out of my machine. More on homemade pasta at a later date.)
Note: My apologies for such a corny headline, especially so soon after “Gnocchi Gnotes.” These temptations, like good ragù alla Bolognese over homemade noodles, are so hard to resist.