Times have changed, and they've changed quickly. A few weeks ago, if you were hungry, you could go out and eat. Now, while you can (and should) still support your favorite restaurants by getting takeout, you're much more likely to be cooking most of your own meals.
Since many of us are also working from home, the opportunity to make dishes that require more time, and a little more attention, is now an option. I'm sure that's not news to most, as the baking section of most grocery stores is almost as empty as the toilet paper aisle.
So, in order to offer inspiration to your inner chef, over the next few weeks I'll focus on recipes that benefit from a longer cooking time, but don't take so much babysitting that you can't get your work done, too. These recipes will be relatively inexpensive and family-friendly. This week's recipe, Slow-Cooked Bolognese, fits the bill perfectly.
Yes, you can make a solid marinara in under 30 minutes, but if you have the time to let a big pot full of meat and tomatoes, along with onions, garlic, wine and stock, simmer away, you'll be rewarded with a flavorful sauce that's perfect when tossed with a favorite pasta or layered into lasagna.
I start by lightly browning ground beef, pork and pancetta in a Dutch oven. Browning the meat too much creates a less tender result. If you don't have ground pork, you can use all beef. If you can't find pancetta, Italian cured pork belly, you can use its smoked American cousin, bacon. It's not as authentic, but the underlying smokiness is not a bad thing.
To the meat, a mélange of chopped vegetables is added and sautéed until softened. Then tomato paste is stirred in and cooked until its dark red color turns into a rusty brown. The color change indicates caramelization has happened, and that process results in much bigger flavor.
One ingredient that's standard in a classic Bolognese is milk. While that may seem like a strange choice for a tomato sauce, it adds an element of creaminess, and is thought to make the meat more tender. Finally, dry white wine (preferably one that's not oaky) is added and reduced. I've made it with red wine, too, and that's also good, as long as it's dry.
Canned whole tomatoes, satisfyingly crushed with your fingers as they're being plopped into the pot, and chicken stock are the final ingredients added before the long simmer begins. It only needs to be stirred occasionally, so feel free to finish whatever spreadsheet or report you're working on.
After a few hours of slowly cooking away, a complex sauce has developed, layered in deep, meaty, tomatoey flavor. Since you're home anyway, you may as well spend time making staying-in-place as delicious as possible.
Slow-Cooked Bolognese Sauce
Makes 12 cups.
Note: Cooking this classic Italian meat sauce slowly, over low heat, gives it a melt-in-your-mouth consistency and deep flavor that's just right for pappardelle pasta, fettuccine or layered in your favorite lasagna. Pancetta, also known as Italian bacon, can be found in the deli section of the supermarket. Regular bacon can be substituted. The sauce can be cooked, cooled and frozen for up to 2 months. Freeze it in 3-cup increments, as that is about the right amount for 1 pound of pasta. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 tbsp. olive oil
• 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 lb. ground beef
• 1 lb. ground pork
• 3 oz. thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped (see Note)
• 2 medium onions, finely chopped
• 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
• 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
• 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
• 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
• 1 c. whole milk
• 1 c. dry white or red wine
• 2 (28-oz. each) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
• 4 c. chicken stock
In a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add beef, pork and pancetta and brown, stirring and breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon for about 5 to 7 minutes.
Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for another 3 to 5 minutes or until the paste is a rusty brown color. Add the milk and simmer, stirring, until almost dry, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, for another 3 minutes or until the wine has almost completely evaporated.
Add the tomatoes, crushing with your hands or spoon as you go, and stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and skimming off any excess fat from the top, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours until the meat is meltingly tender and the sauce is thick and creamy. If desired, use a potato masher to break up any bigger chunks of meat and tomatoes. Season with more salt and pepper, if necessary.
Nutrition information per ½ cup:
Calories 150 Fat 9 g
Sodium 300 mg Carbohydrates 7 g
Saturated fat 3 g Added sugars 0 g
Protein 11 g Cholesterol 34 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, 1 ½ medium-fat protein, ½ fat.