When I have excess ground beef in my fridge, and the family has had enough burgers for a while, I often take that meat and turn it into Bolognese sauce. I don’t eat a ton of it myself, because I’m not interested in investing in a new and larger wardrobe. But I love the flavor (I taste quite a bit of it while I’m making it). It’s one of my kids’ favorites and always gets chowed down quite readily.
There are a few simple tips to making Bolognese (meat sauce or ragú are also common terms) and they basically involve a little patience in the kitchen. The foundations of these sauces are ground meat (beef or Italian sausage most typically), mirepoix with garlic (a combination of diced onions, carrots, and celery, which is also referred to as soffritto), tomato paste, tomatoes, wine and herbs (usually basil).
To make these sauces really tasty you need to brown or caramelize every element sequentially until you deglaze with wine and add the tomatoes and herbs. So you start with the miropoix and sauté it until it gets a consistent light brown hue (not burnt!). Typically the meat is added second and browned and cooked until all the liquid has been evaporated. Then you add the tomato paste and let that turn slightly brown and it starts sticking to the bottom of the pan. This process is called “pincé” in classical terms. Using a wooden spoon, keep rubbing the bottom of the pan to build up the brown without burning the tomato paste. These steps are the foundation and will bring you a great sauce.
I vividly remember Food Network Chef Anne Burrell telling of her time doing an apprenticeship in Tuscany and being scolded by her mentor because her vegetables (mirepoix) were raw in her sauce. She simply hadn’t cooked them long enough to develop their sugars. So heed the lesson and go make some exquisite sauce of your own.
One last tip. When you’re finishing the sauce with salt and pepper for seasoning, remember to balance the acid in the sauce with a pinch of sugar. This will depend on the acidity of the tomatoes, but do it to taste and see how it adds a beautiful balance.
Try these recipes featuring Bolognese sauce: