Pasta with a Bolognese-ish Sauce

The weather has been dreadful lately, and I have had little to no interest in leaving my house. I pack all of my errands into one outing, so I only have to dart from my car to my apartment door twice. And after weeks of sitting in my perpetually cold home office bundled up in a puffy jacket, I finally bought a space heater which has literally SAVED my life. Hello, spring? Are you out there? Please! Hurry!!!

lamb, pork, buffalo

Unfortunately, this weather makes me crave hearty, stick to your ribs, warm your bones fare. What, you say? Weren’t you just preaching about being nutritious last week—your only New Year’s resolution? Yes. it is true. I did say that. We are taking baby steps over here people. And while on the subject, WHO came up with the bright idea to make healthy eating resolutions smack dab in the middle of winter??

san marzano tomatoes, thyme, milk

So, I know the recipe title here is a little strange but I didn’t really know what to call this since it isn’t technically bolognese sauce (a sauce traditionally made with beef, pancetta, white wine, and other select ingredients in the Bologna region of Italy). In my defense, this recipe originated as a bolognese sauce and evolved into something a little different but really just as tasty.

It is also pretty versatile. Swap out some of the meat for hearty porcini mushrooms. Can’t find buffalo? Use a lean beef or even ground turkey. And don’t forget…BROWN everything! The meat, the veggies, the tomato paste. Because as Anne Burrell always says “Brown food tastes goooood.”

ragu alla bolognese

Pasta Bolognese
{Serves 6-8}

Serving Suggestions: Green salad and crusty bread

1 large sweet onion, minced
3 large carrots, peeled and minced
3 celery stalks, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground buffalo
1 lb. ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 cup red wine
1/8 cup tomato paste
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano if available)
2 bay leaves
thyme bundle (4-5 stalks thyme)
rind of parmesan cheese (optional)
1 cup milk
parmesan cheese for serving
basil/thyme for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute onions, carrots, and celery until browned (about 15 minutes). Season with salt. Vegetables will release liquid but keep cooking until they have a nice brown, caramelized color (but not burned). We are looking for brown not black. Add garlic and cook for another minute.

Season meats with salt and pepper. Add buffalo, pork, and lamb to vegetables and cook until browned. Do not rush this step as it is important to brown the meat for better flavor. If using beef instead of buffalo, you may want to skim some of the fat off the surface. Don’t skim all of that fat though as it does add tons of great flavor.

Once you have achieved a nice brownness on your meat, add the tomato paste and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add ½ cup of red wine (preferably an Italian red wine or you can also use white wine if that is what you have open or on hand). Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook wine down for about 5-10 minutes.

Wrap thyme stalks with kitchen twine. Add thyme bundle, bay leaves, parmesan rind, and crushed tomatoes to sauce. Turn heat to low, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes. Add 1 cup milk and cook for another hour checking to make sure sauce isn’t getting too thick. If your sauce thickens too much, add beef or chicken stock by the ½ cup. Taste your sauce and season with salt and pepper.

Serve with your favorite pasta (I try to use fresh when possible which is available at many grocery stores (and Whole Foods Market) these days. Remove, thyme bundle, bay leaves, and parmesan rind. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese and basil and/or thyme.

Notes: This sauce requires a hearty, substantial pasta type such as linguine or fettuccine. You could also try penne or garganelli.

Buy a block of parmesan-reggianno at your grocery store and cut the rind for the sauce. Grate the remaining cheese for a fresher, more robust cheesy flavor than pre-shredded parm.

For Cvillians: If you are in the Charlottesville area, check out Mona Lisa Pasta for fresh, cut-to-order pasta. They have a huge variety including whole wheat, wild mushroom, lemon-thyme, garlic-rosemary, and more. Plus, they will cut the pasta to your desired width – spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine and linguine. It is delicious and makes such a huge difference in your pasta dish. You may never go back to eating dried pasta again!

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