When Saskia was researching her risotto opus one of her references was the May 2009 Gourmet Traveller, which was the Italian issue. Leafing through the magazine, I came across an article entitled the ‘Battle of the bol‘, which discussed the secrets of the perfect Bolognese. As I read the article, I was horrified to realise that all these years I was doing it wrong. My standard recipe of pork and veal with carrot, capsicum, zucchini and mushroom was apparently an abomination. The inclusion of mushroom was particularly offensive, when asked by GT about including mushrooms in Bolognese Guy Grossi responded “None! Oh my god”.
Clearly I had a lot of work to do.
I set about finding some tips for a perfect Bolognese. My first stop was Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – in which she explains that the sauce is characterised by a mellow, gentle, comfortable flavour that any cook can achieve by following some simple tips. Hazan recommends using marbled meat, adding salt immediately when sauteing the meat, cooking the meat in milk before adding wine and tomatoes to protect it and cook for a long, long time (no less than 3 hours). In his book Bugialli on Pasta, Giuliano Bugialli comments that the distinctive feature of a Bolognese are the sauteing of the meat with the aromatic vegetables, using ground beef and pork, white wine rather than red wine, not using garlic and especially the inclusion of heavy cream. Bugialli recommends cooking the sauce for about 1.5 hours. I also had a look in The Silver Spoon for some Bolognese ideas as well, and found an incredibly simple recipe using beef and pancetta, carrot, onion and celery and tomato paste. No tinned or fresh tomato or sugo, no wine, herbs or dairy. The Silver Spoon recipe also has a more manageable cook time of 1.5 hours.
In addition to all these tips, I also had the tips from the chefs polled by GT. While there was much conjecture as to what made the perfect Bolognese, there seemed to be some consensus:
- use a mixture of meats – veal and pork was most frequently recommended and secondary cuts are best, you should also mince it yourself
- include a cured pork product
- cook in butter and oil
- use onion, celery and carrot
- use either white or red wine
- add dairy
- cook it for about 1.5-2 hours but not much longer as it can lose flavour
Completely overwhelmed by all this information, I decided to have a go at making a Bolognese that incorporated as many of these tips as possible and to deliberately try a technique that was different to my usual approach. For example, normally I cook the onion separately first, but many suggested including all the vegetables in one go, so the recipe reflects that. I usually leave all my herbs in the pot, but many recipes didn’t include herbs and Emma Knowles from GT suggests removing the herbs. I didn’t have any bacon, pancetta or prosciutto on hand so my recipe doesn’t include them. I think the flavour would be improved by adding about 80g of pork product at the same time as the mince. Finally, I didn’t mince my own pork and veal but I think this would also add to the quality of the Bolognese, the best cuts to use are shoulder and neck. My recipe is set out below.
So how did it go? Mr M said it was the best Bolognese I had ever made (although perhaps this isn’t that great a feat since I had always been doing it wrong). In any event, it was quite delicious and there was a sweetness to the meat from the inclusion of the milk. Adding the red wine vinegar at the end seemed a bit strange but brought the sweetness back a touch and added a robust flavour.
I will continue trying to perfect the recipe and let you know how I go. I am also hoping to gain access to the Italian grandmother of a friend of mine to get even more tips and tricks! Let me know if you have any suggestions for the perfect Bolognese!
My gimmick laden Bolognese
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
250g veal mince
250g pork mince
salt to taste
300ml red wine
100g tomato paste
400g canned tomatoes
bouquet garni – 2 sprigs of sage, parsley stalks and rosemary, tied together with string
small cube of parmesan rind
2 bay leaves
2 tsp aged red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
extra chopped parsley
parmesan, to serve
- Heat the oil and butter in a heavy based saucepan.
- Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot and saute until soft and fragrant.
- Add the veal and pork and salt. Cook the meat until all moisture has evaporated and the meat has caramelised.
- Increase heat to high. Pour in the red wine and scrape all the goodness from the bottom of the pot.
- Stir through the tomato paste.
- Add the canned tomatoes, bouquet garni, parmesan rind and bay leaves.
- Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered.
- After 20-30 minutes, add 2 tbs of milk. Continue adding milk in 20-30 minute intervals until all milk is incorporated.
- After about 1.5 hours, remove the bouquet garni, parmesan rind and bay leaves.
- Stir in the red wine vinegar and season to taste.
- Stir through the chopped parsley and serve immediately with pasta, topped with extra parmesan.