February. It crept up on me like those 15 pounds freshman year of college. New England January, February, and March is the pits. It's cold. It's unpredictable. and the days are still not quite long enough to really enjoy after work. Now, I spend my days dreaming of a late summer vacation, to the south of France perhaps, the Pacific Northwest, or even Iceland.
For now, this pasta will do. Lovingly created over the course of two days, simmered, scraped, stewed, and seasoned, this Bolognese was quite the effort, but oh was it worth it. In the end, all of us food lovers really love sharing it with those we, well, love. And though Valentine's day is slowly approaching with all its pink heart cut outs and prix fix dinner menus galore, nothing says "I love you" more than a warm meal, made with generous heapings of time and care.
For the Bolognese Sauce (Serves 4):
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 large or 2 slim carrots, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup finely diced pancetta, or 2 strips bacon
- 2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground veal, pork, or combination of the two
- 1 1/4 cups tomato paste (from 2 6-ounce cans)
- 2 cups red wine, preferably hearty but really, anything you like to drink
- Water as needed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup half and half or whole milk
For the pasta:
Generally speaking, pasta is made with a ratio of 100g flour to 1 egg. However, in the absence of having a kitchen scale, the following measurements should do:
- 1.5 cups flour (I use all purpose)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- extra flour for dusting
In a food processor, pulse the celery, garlic, onion, and carrot until finely diced. If you don't have a food processor, or prefer not to use one, feel free to hand chop. Meanwhile, in a large dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot, melt 1 tbsp unsalted butter and a generous coating of olive oil over medium high heat. Once this is hot, add the celery, garlic, onion, and carrot mixture. Salt and pepper this. Stir it around until onions turn translucent and the vegetables begin to brown, around 10-15 minutes. Throw in two bay leaves and the bacon. Give it a good stir.
Next, add your ground meat. Season again, and using a wooden spoon, break up the ground meat as it browns, taking care to stir it around so that it browns evenly. This will take 15-20 minutes. I found that mine stuck to the bottom of the pan, but fear not! Some scraping took care of that and the sauce will taste all the better for it.
Once the meat is brown all around, dig a little hole in the middle of the pile to expose the bottom of the pan. Add in your tomato paste. Stir it around until it's evenly distributed. Add the red wine (top your own wine glass off in the process, har har). Give it another good stir and don't forget to scrape the bottom of the pan again to deglaze any delicious brown bits. Turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer.
Now, in the absence of beef or chicken stock, I simply used water for this step. Add water in 1 cup increments to the mixture whenever the Bolognese starts to get low, approximately every half hour. Put the lid on top and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. 2 hours is quite the commitment, I'm aware, but think of this as a good time to make your pappardelle.
Now, there's no secret to making homemade pasta but I have found, as with most doughs, that there are a couple of tricks to making it easier to handle and clean up.
- Flour liberally. There's no harm in it. Use a shaker filled with flour to make your life easier.
- Start with the 0 setting when rolling out the dough. Then, fold the dough on itself after rolling it out the first time, and then re-roll. The folding helps develop the gluten in the dough for a chewy, al dente pasta. Increase the setting to 1, then 2, then 3, you get the idea. (I found that going up to the 7 setting gave me a thin, but still substantial thickness for my pasta, but feel free to experiment)
- Always have a glass of wine while making homemade pasta. Because you might as well .
After rolling it out into long, thin sheets, I floured again, rolled it onto itself, and hand cut into thick, wide strands. These freeze well, so feel free to do this and store.
Note: It is highly recommended that you make the sauce and pasta one day before it is meant to be served. This not only ensures that the pasta sauce develops overnight, but it makes it easier to not have a frantic pasta/flour/dough cleanup session before serving dinner. Just a thought.
Now, back to the sauce. After 2-ish hours of simmering, lift the lid and give it a small taste. Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Pour in your cup of milk or half an half. Stir it in and let it simmer on low for another half an hour. The sauce will be "done" afterwards, but as I mentioned above, I do believe that letting the sauce sit overnight gives it that much more of a delicious, complex flavor. I ended up spooning out half and freezing, for another night, and left half unfrozen for dinner the next day.
When you're ready to serve, cook your pasta in a large pot filled with well salted water. Bring the water to a boil and throw in your fresh pasta. Let it cook for no more than 1 minute. Even if the water hasn't re-boiled yet, take it out. Overcooking the pasta is the quickest way to ruin your hard work.
Add the just-under-al dente pasta to the sauce. Toss to coat. Don't spoon the sauce in a little dollop on top of plain, cooked pasta because you think it looks nice. Toss the whole dang thing and let the flavors of the sauce get absorbed into the pasta, ensuring that every bite is flavorful and delicious. Tongs are a great way to do this, just be careful not to cut the pasta up into little pieces.
Serve immediately with grated parmesan on top.