Classic Bolognese Sauce
I learned this recipe from my friend’s Italian grandmother. She calls it ‘Sunday Gravy’ – but as a midwestern farm girl that’s just confusing to me. In my house, we definitely ate gravy on Sundays, but it was usually served with biscuits and fried eggs. I told my friend’s grandma what I thought was a cute little joke, she just looked at me confused. Who would have known the word gravy would get lost in translation? Either way, thank you Nana Julie…this stuff is ridiculous good, no matter what you call it.
But they do call it Sunday gravy for a reason – this takes 4-5 hours to cook, but a huge majority of that time is spent occasionally stirring a simmering pot. It’s a great recipe for a chilly day at home, the simmering sauce warms up the kitchen a bit and pretty quickly the whole house smells like…well, Nana Julie’s house. And who doesn’t love that? My husband usually comes down to the kitchen several times during the cooking process – ‘can I have some yet?’ I love to play swat at him with a wooden spoon, makes me feel like a real Italian grandma.
This sauce does everything! Today I’m going to pour it under and over some spinach and cheese cannelloni from the farmer’s market. It’s also become an absolute must anytime I make lasagna…ground beef and pre-made sauce just doesn’t hold up anymore. But it’s equally good with any kind of pasta. Sometimes I eat more than I’d like to admit just spooning it on top of fresh bread.
Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a large pot, until the foam from the butter starts to subside. Add the onion, garlic, fennel, celery and carrots to the pan with a sprinkle of salt. Cook them for about 3 minutes, or until they start to soften.
Add the ground meats to the pan and season with a bit more salt and a generous sprinkle of white pepper. If needed, use a fork to make sure the meat is nice and crumbly, and is well incorporated with the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat has lost its redness. If you're like me, your instinct will be to pour off the fat that has accumulated before moving on - please don't! It'll cook into the sauce in the best way. Stay with me here, I promise it's worth it.
Turn the heat down to low, add milk and let it simmer gently. Stir it frequently, until the milk all but cooked away. You'll have a little bit of liquid at the end, and it should be yellow and buttery.
Add the wine, tomato paste, nutmeg, sugar, and cayenne and mix well. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally until the wine has evaporated.
Gently mix in both cans of tomatoes. When the pot starts to bubble, turn it all the way down. You want an occasional bubble to pop to the surface, but you mostly just want to infuse the flavors and thicken up your sauce a bit. Let it cook for about 3 hours, stirring from time to time.
If the sauce thickens up (mine always seems to) while you're cooking, stir in about a half cup of water. I usually do this 2 or 3 times during the process. Just make sure it's nice and thick when you're done.
Before serving, stir in fresh herbs and give it a little taste. Add some salt, sugar, pepper or whatever sounds right to you.