It is with great remorse that I recall how late bolognese entered my life. Yes, there was a time when “bolognese” just sounded too fancy, too French, for my liking. But if there’s one way to get me to eat something, it’s slipping it into lasagna, right there between the layers of pasta and creamy cheese. And for this very thing, I say THANK YOU to Papa Joe’s (one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Akron, Ohio) for their bechamel lasagna with bolognese. It was love at first bite, as they say.
For the record, bolognese is not French. It is, in fact, a hearty Italian meat sauce. I’ve come so far.
I succumbed to eating bolognese without much arm twisting, but I didn’t attempt to cook the sauce myself until I sat in on a cooking class with my friend Keia (her blog: Ink and Fork) at Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen at the Atherton Market this fall.
Here’s the deal. This sauce takes time. The more time you put into the sauce, letting it gently simmer on the stove, the richer the flavors will be. The good news is the sauce gives you an excuse to open a nice bottle of red wine (as if you needed an excuse…), and you, lovely chef, can enjoy the remainder of that bottle while the sauce slowly cooks down. It’s precisely the sort of relaxing kitchen moment I crave.
This sauces freezes well, and even if you double the recipe, you’ll still have plenty of wine to drink, so go for it, friend. For my bolognese, I like a medium to full-bodied dry red wine, like the Alamos Malbec I used in this batch. Whatever varietal you choose, make sure to pick a wine you’d actually enjoy drinking. Which is exactly what I did with the rest of my Malbec… This one is going into my regular rotation!
Bolognese from Chef Alyssa
Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen — Healthy & Sustainable cooking classes
If you’re looking for a fun date night or girls night out, check out Chef Alyssa’s cooking classes. Chef Alyssa does an awesome job of breaking down intimidating recipes into easy, step-by-step chunks. Keia and I had a great time in the class, and this bolognese recipe is one I’ll be making for years to come. Check out the class schedule here.
- 2 tbsp cooking oil (I used extra virgin olive oil)
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped (about 3/4 of a cup)
- 2 ounces thinly slice pancetta (I used 3 ounces of smokey bacon)
- 8 ounces ground beef (I used 90% lean)
- 1/3 cup dry red wine (I highly recommend Alamos Malbec)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 cups beef stock
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 pound pasta of choice (I used fettuccine)
- Freshly grated Parmesan
- Fresh parsley, chopped
Heat oil in a heavy pot over (or large saute pan) medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots and saute until soft, about 8-10 minutes.
Add beef and pancetta (or bacon); saute, breaking up the meat with the back of a spoon, until browned, about 15 minutes. Add wine and balsamic and boil for 2 minutes, stirring often and scraping up browned bits.
Add the stock and tomato paste. Reduce heat to very low and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper.
Finish sauce by adding the milk, then bring to a simmer until absorbed, about 20 minutes. Transfer the sauce to a large saute pan.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cupful of the pasta water, and add the pasta to the bolognese sauce. Turn heat to medium-high, toss to coat. If the sauce is too thick, add a few splashes of the pasta water to loosen it up. Top with parmesan and parsley before serving.
I’ve realized lately that the kind of food I enjoy most is food that is uncomplicated. Sure, it’s awesome to tackle a difficult recipe, but there’s something to be said for the simple satisfaction of grabbing fresh ingredients from the fridge and transforming them into a great tasting meal without consulting a recipe every five seconds.
One night, while wandering up and down grocery store aisles, searching for something that might satiate me, I became increasingly agitated. It was mega-mart overload. I set my basket on the ground and considered abandoning the whole thing and ordering a nice hot pizza. After a short silent debate (during which time I’m sure I got a couple woah-crazy-lady looks), I took one final lap of the produce aisle and grabbed the things that looked best: cherry tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, a hunk of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano (which the uptown grocery store conveniently keeps in the middle of the veggies), and a bottle of red wine. I had no recipe, just a bunch of things I eat often and love.
These days, we are inundated with recipes. They are everywhere. And if you’re like me, you’re constantly clipping and pinning and bookmarking things to try. The recipe pool is big and bottomless, and while these are great qualities for a mimosa, I often find myself completely flummoxed when I try to decide which one to make for dinner. I call this recipe paralysis. We’ve all become so reliant on recipes, we’ve forgotten how simple cooking can be.
When I got home from the grocery store, I poured a glass of wine and cranked the oven and some tunes (and by tunes, I mean NPR, of course). I put the halved Brussels sprouts and cherry tomatoes on a sheet pan along with a few cloves of thinly sliced garlic, drizzled on some extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with salt. I roasted the veggies in a 425 degree oven for twenty minutes, during which time I cooked some whole wheat spaghetti (or was it linguine?) on the stove top. Saving a mugful of the starchy cooking liquid, I combined the drained noodles with the hot roasted veggies, a drizzle of evoo, red pepper flakes, some salt, a little of the cooking liquid, and a generous grating of the fresh parmesan. Dinner was served without the guidance of a recipe (what?!) and it was delicious.
Shortly after moving to Charlotte, I fell in love with Mama Ricotta’s. I blame it on the goat cheese and mascarpone dip, which was my first bite of food on my very first visit to Mama’s.
Mama’s is the type of place where families feel equally comfortable as couples on hot dates. The dining room is cozy with large family-sized booths plus intimate tables for two, vintage family photos, and a large wood-fired pizza oven.
If you have any Italian friends or family, you know the importance of sharing food in the Italian culture. Food is love. This holds true at Mama’s, where most of the pasta dishes are available family-style and are served in deep dishes that are passed around the table, just like at home.
It didn’t take long for me to realize Mama Ricotta’s had common ownership with Bad Daddy’s (one of my favorite burger spots in town) and Midwood Smokehouse (my favorite barbecue joint). I’ve eaten at these restaurants dozen of times, and many of those meals have ended with toasts to Frank Scibelli, the owner and man behind the amazing food.
I’m a big fan of bread, and Mama Ricotta’s bread basket alone is worth a visit. The housemade rolls are served with olive oil sprinkled with crushed red pepper flakes for dipping. As for appetizers, there’s that amazing dip I mentioned–it’s a warm goat cheese and mascarpone dip served with grilled crostini and a warm tomato basil sauce, a steal at $8.50. I also highly recommend the new house made burrata ($12). Burrata is fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, and Mama’s burrata is soft and supple and accompanied by olive oil poached tomatoes, basil, roasted garlic, and grilled ciabatta.
One of the perks of working in the city is having the world at your fingertips on your lunch break. When the clock hits noon, I like to hit the street. Often, I’ll swing through the library or take a stroll through the 7th St Public Market. When it’s warm, I find a nice table in the shade and read while I eat, and when it’s cold, I saddle up next to the fireplace at Carribou. There’s a grocery store just a few blocks away, and I’ve found squeezing my shopping into my lunch break to be not only productive but surprisingly liberating.
Last week, on a lunch-break grocery shopping spree, I picked up ingredients for this shrimp and tomato bake. It’s a low-stress meal that can easily be made after work or prepared the day before. (I find that recipes using canned tomatoes taste even better when they’ve had time to sit.) Shrimp, tomatoes, and a bit of cheese–it’s a dish built for carbohydrates. I recommend a crusty bread or a twirly noodle.
Call it Shrimp Fra Diavolo, as the Italians say, or simply spicy shrimp with tomatoes and onions in a garlic wine sauce. Either way, this easy pasta dish is one to add to your recipe repertoire, pronto.
When it comes to pasta, I’m usually a marinara kind of gal. I find cream sauces heavy and overly rich and oil based sauces often taste bland and greasy. This fra diavolo sauce is the perfect middle ground—light, yet flavorful, with a kick of heat from the red pepper flakes. Two bites into our pasta Saturday night, Jarrod and I agreed we’d be making it regularly. That’s when you know you have a good recipe on your hands!