Sunday, March 23, 2014

Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Meat Sauce

The arrival of spring break, after the neighborhood's buffeting with last month's ice storms and recent scary events, offers a welcome chance to decompress. For myself this took the form of slowly simmering a pot of Marcella Hazan's incomparable ragu alla bolognese.

Ragu recipes can elicit strong feelings and even commentary for beyond the grave, but for me this is unquestionably the quintessential version. Over the years, I've tweaked Hazan's recipe to accommodate a pound of ground beef and scaled up slightly the proportion of tomatoes (a convenient two large cans) and vegetables. This produces a plentiful pot of sauce with ample supplies to freeze for later, well worth doing after all of the hours of simmering down first the beef's milky bath and then its winey digestif. For this batch I used ground beef from Fair Valley Farm and a couple of quarts of frozen Sweetwater Farm tomatoes. With ingredients this good, the resulting ragu was particularly delicious, and the process of preparing it imbued the house with comforting smells and a sense of balance.

Marcella Hazan's Bolagnese Meat Sauce
(adapted slightly; makes about 5 pints of sauce, which can be frozen)

1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 lb ground beef chuck
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine (I use 1/2 cup dry vermouth)
2 28 ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juices (or 2-3 quarts frozen peeled tomatoes)

1. Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a large heavy pot, such as a Dutch oven, and turn the heat on medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.

2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well, and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.

3. Add the milk, and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. At this point Hazan adds a tiny grating of nutmeg, but I omit this step because of my nutmeg aversion.

4.  Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. Add 1/2 cup water at a time if it begins to dry out (I've never had this problem). At the end, however, no water at all must be left and rye fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

5. Toss with cooked drained pasta and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.

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