There’s been a first in the short history of this blog. A friend has requested a recipe that I made during the holidays and she needs it stat! Far be it for me to deny such a request–how’s that for inspiration, or maybe motivation? The point is, she made me realize that you’re going to
want need this one for the coming cold and dreary nights. Jeez, now I’m feeling downright obligated.
Bolognese, or spaghetti with meat sauce, is one of my all-time favorite winter comfort foods. It’s also excellent for serving a crowd because it’s easy and can be eaten in a casual manner, out of big bowls on laps, curled up on the sofa. Picture a Nancy Myers movie, ladies eating and drinking around a huge coffee table with fluffy white sofas, and you’ll get the idea. It’s homey comfort food, meant for sharing.
For many years, I relied on Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meal recipe. It’s always satisfying, hits all the right notes, and includes a couple of unexpected (for me anyways) secrets, such as grated onion and a dash of allspice (Rachael always–and I stress always–says it’s the ingredient that makes people say “hmmmm…what is that?”). I think it gives it that wintertime, earthy, quite Tuscan note, as if one were actually eating wild boar (!).
But then there’s always Ina to consider, and her take on this classic, called Weeknight Bolognese, is supposedly easy enough to cook on a, you guessed it, weeknight. That might be taking matters a little far, so I cooked it for my girlfriends on a Friday, during the holidays, while the lights were still twinkling and champagne was still flowing. I wanted to include Ina’s special ingredients–fresh basil, cream, nutmeg–without completely giving up Rachael’s grated onion and allspice. What I ended up with was a mélange, if you will, of the two. Since everyone went back for seconds, I’m pretty sure this was a successful dish! I might add that the scant leftovers were even better the next day.
And lest I forget that bottle of Brunello that was burning a hole on my countertop since I brought it back from Tuscany, begging to be consumed, enjoyed, savored. It needed a hearty Italian dish. And it needed to be shared with friends. Enough said.
Adapted from Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals and Ina Garten’s How Easy is That?, serves 6, or 2-4 with plenty of leftovers.
- 1 lb. ground sirloin
- 3/4 of a box of whole wheat shells or other small pasta (Gia Russa brand is my fave)
- 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 medium onion, grated (grate right over pan)
- 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
- red wine (1/4 cup or a couple of glugs)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano or herbes de Provence
- 1 bay leaf
- dash each allspice or nutmeg (you could probably get away with one or the other, I’d go for the allspice)
- grated parmesan
- coarse salt and pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
Brown the meat, in a large skillet or dutch oven, in 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the grated onion, garlic, spices and herbs, including the bay leaf, and sauté for a couple more minutes. Add the broth, wine, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, making sure to scrape any browned bits from the pan. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until sauce begins to thicken.
In the meantime, boil pasta according to package directions, making sure to salt the water upon boiling. Add to a large bowl with a drizzle of olive oil.
Add the torn basil, cream and another glug red wine and simmer for 8-10 more minutes. Toss 1/2 cup of sauce with the cooked pasta along with a handful of grated parmesan cheese. Pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta and serve immediately, with garlic bread for sopping up the delicious sauce. Serve extra cheese on the side.
And there you have it, Friday Night Bolognese, à la Ina and Rachael, with a little dash of Liza! (Wow, that’s way corny. I hope you’ll forgive me 😉