February 1st. Cold outside, feet of snow, major lack of sunlight, you get the picture, right?
Since about 2/3 of the country is being slammed by a major winter storm just now, you can all hunker down over the next few days and make a really big pot of this delicious, hearty, complex-tasting, simple-to-make classic meat sauce. Go ahead and serve it on some extra wide pasta ribbons, but just once I recommend trying baked polenta.
I've made Bolognese sauce many times, and I've never once made it the truly authentic way they do in Bologna, Italy. But that's ok, because tonight my seven year old daughter announced that she wants to live somewhere that they cook "Italy-ish" food. Great! She can go there and report back on the whole authenticity deal.
Bolognese is supposed to have pancetta in it. Well, Sassy didn't have any pancetta in the house and I was not about to swagger into town on this frigid day for a couple of ounces of expensive Italian bacon. But wouldn't it have been nice? You can add it to your sauce - just dice it up and cook it with the first vegetables.
I love this sauce for many reasons. I have every single ingredient in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer at any given time. You probably do, too! It gets sweetness from the carrot-onion-celery dice, richness from Parmesan and cream, acidity from white wine and tomatoes, and heartiness from all that good ground beef. Some day I'd like to try it with a combination of ground beef, pork and veal, but straight ground beef is just terrific.
Giada says she likes this over polenta. Sure, why not? Her Bolognese recipe is very simple and quick, so I combined what I knew from her along with a few different recipes found on the web. I had a full afternoon to let the sauce simmer. And since she contributed the polenta idea, I'm going to trust her Italy-ish-ness on this whole thing.
Polenta is just cornmeal mush, chilled, sliced and baked. It's nice served creamy and hot straight from the pan, but when you chill it in a buttered loaf pan, it firms up and slices beautifully, then bakes on a sheet pan to a lovely, golden crispiness. I can think of a dozen different things to do with all the leftover slices I have - first up will be fried in butter tomorrow morning next to my fried egg. Oh, yes.
The Bolognese sauce takes about two hours to "cook" but only a few minutes to prep and fuss over. The polenta cooks the night before, chills for several hours, and then bakes up in just 20 minutes.
Turn on your music for this one. Frank and the boys are aching to croon for you.
(Note: I made a huge amount of sauce. There are almost 3 quarts in my freezer, plus there was enough for tonight's dinner. Reduce quantities to your liking.)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely diced carrot
1 cup finely diced celery
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
3 pounds of ground meat (beef, veal, pork)
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
2 - 28 ounce cans of plum tomatoes with juice
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, parsley and basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
In a large Dutch oven, heat oil and butter over medium-low heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, plus a big pinch of salt and pepper, and saute until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from pot to a bowl and set aside. Increase heat to medium and add meat and another pinch of salt to pot. Cook until meat is no longer pink. If your meat was very high in fat, drain off a bit of it. Add the vegetables back into the pot, along with the wine, broth, tomatoes, herbs and another pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer on low, uncovered, for at least one hour until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning. Before serving, stir cheese and cream into the simmering sauce, and remove from heat immediately.
Baked Herb Polenta
6 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups polenta (cornmeal)
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
more salt to taste
In a large sauce pot, bring water and salt to a boil. Slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently to prevent burning, for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter, cheese, and seasonings.
Butter a 9 inch loaf pan. Pour polenta into the pan and smooth top. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan and turn polenta onto a cutting board. Slice 1/4 or 3/8 inch thick. Cut each slice into two triangles. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until the edges are crisp and golden.