Recipe Excerpted with publisher permission from Good Enough: A Cookbook by Leanne Brown, Copyright © 2022 by Leanne Brown, illustrated by Allison Gore, Workman Publishing Copyright ©2022. All rights reserved.
When I broke my fifteen-plus years of vegetarianism, this bolognese was one of the dishes I was most excited to enjoy again. I don’t have an Italian grandmother or any particular memory of it, but the experience of this kind of sauce is everything that makes cooking feel like magic. As the meat browns and begins to go from soft and pink to dark brown and crispy, the air is full of savory, buttery smells. You add the vegetables and the aroma becomes more complex, then suddenly a rush of steam and a burst of bright sweetness hit you as the wine deglazes the pan. Then the tomato paste mixes with the fats, and suddenly it looks like sauce and smells almost illegally savory. Finally, the tomato and milk and parmesan simmer, and you take off the lid and it’s gone from soupy to a thick, red, oily sauce that smells like everything you could ever want. It’s not fast, but this is Potions Class and you are making magic.
Serves 8 to 12
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
1 pound ground beef (preferably 80% lean,
20% fat; see note,
1 pound ground pork (preferably 80% lean,
20% fat; see note,
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
2 small red onions, diced
1 large carrot, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 bell pepper (any color), stemmed, seeded, and diced
½ cup dry white wine
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) tomato paste
1 can (28 ounces) crushed or diced tomatoes
1 cup whole milk
1 parmesan rind (see note, page 183)
1 pound pasta of your choice, such as tagliatelle (traditional) or orecchiette (pictured)
Grated parmesan, for serving
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving
Note: I make a lighter, warm-weather version of this by substituting finely chopped cauliflower for half the meat; I add the cauliflower with the other vegetables in Step 2. It is still lovely and hearty without sitting quite so heavily in your tummy.
Note: The parmesan rind adds salty richness to the sauce. If you don’t have one, just add 1 extra teaspoon of salt in Step 4.
1. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. If it begins to brown, that is just fine, but make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the beef, pork, and 1 teaspoon of salt and break up the meat with a wooden spoon. Let the meat cook, stirring occasionally, until it is no longer pink and has plenty of dark brown bits, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper to the browned meat and stir. Place a tight lid on top and let the vegetables sweat, stirring occasionally, until they cook down about halfway in volume and your kitchen smells incredibly savory, about 20 minutes.
3. At this point you will probably have some dark brown sticky bits on the bottom of the pan. This is good! Pour in the white wine and stir to gently lift the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Cook until the mixture dries out a bit, a few minutes more.
Note: The white wine deglazes the pan, meaning it gets the delicious brown bits into the sauce instead of letting them burn.
4. Add the tomato paste, mix it up with everything, and leave it until it loses its bright red uncooked color, a couple of minutes. Then add the canned tomatoes, milk, and parmesan rind—which will add a lot of savory saltiness! Stir it all together and put the lid on, just a little askew so a small amount of steam can escape. Turn down the heat to low and gently simmer for about 45 minutes.
5. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the package instructions, but take it off the heat a minute or so before it reaches al dente. That way the pasta will cook through in the sauce, drinking in a little more of the bolognese flavor. Drain the pasta and taste the sauce; add more salt, if needed. Add the pasta to the sauce and cook until it is al dente and totally covered in sauce, a minute or so.
6. Remove the parmesan rind and serve the pasta and sauce in bowls, topped with grated parmesan and chopped parsley. Any leftovers will keep in a sealed container for a week in the fridge.