Just this one word evokes all sorts of wonderful childhood memories for me. Nana’s Sunday “Gravy” was a staple of my early years, and if I close my eyes I can still see her tending her gently bubbling pot of sauce for hours, while all of us grandchildren took turns working alongside her, finessing the crank on her old Atlas pasta machine.
Some folks never stray far from the pasta sauce they grew up on, and my Nana’s (then my Mom’s) was certainly good enough to make me think twice before experimenting with other recipes. Over the years however, I came to enjoy bolognese in a wide range of styles, some at the hands of other home cooks, some while dining out or traveling abroad, and one in particular from a wonderful Italian restaurant in Bar harbor, ME.
For many years my go-to bolognese has been Marcella Hazan’s, one that uses a mix of meats, but is atypically light on tomato, in fact, it is hardly a red sauce at all and I think that is why it appealed to me, it was very different from all the others I’d tried. It is a long, slow cooking marvel, slick with pork fat, yet elegant with its use of a fine mirepoix, whole milk and a little freshly ground nutmeg. It is not at all like my Nana’s, hers was a more traditional American – Italian sauce, thick with San Marzano’s and tomato paste.
A few years ago, while camping at Acadia National Park in Maine, I stumbled across a bolognese at a great little restaurant that has now become a fixture of our annual Summer getaway, “Guinness and Porcelli’s”, in Bar Harbor. It is almost embarrassing, when our party of seven ALL orders their bolognese on homemade taglietelle, but what can I say, its that good. It’s like my Nana’s on steroids, a vibrant red, complex and deep due to a mix of meats, and finished with just a touch of cream. It totally rocks!
G&P’s bolognese has become one of the highlights of our summer camping trip, so much so that my wife decided to do a little investigating to see if she could uncover the recipe (after a few years of attempts by yours truly to find it on the net). In true woman possessed form, she called the restaurant one day and asked for an ingredient list so that she could scout for any items that might trigger a food allergy reaction in one of the kids (isn’t she clever!). The chef happily provided the ingredient list, though not the recipe, so we were left to play with quantities and method as we worked to craft a reasonable replica of their fabulous “gravy”.
Did we fully succeed in cloning their dish? No, their trade secret remains safely in the hands of their talented chef, but we did use their guidance to come up with one heck of a bolognese. I think Nana would be proud.
- 2 sweet onions cut into fine dice
- 3 carrots cut into fine dice
- 3 ribs of celery cut into fine dice
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- 1/2 tablespoon dried sage
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 pounds of ground meatloaf mix (1/3 beef, 1/3 veal, 1/3 pork)
- 1 pound of sweet italian sausage, casings removed
- 4 1/2 oz. tomato paste
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 28 oz. cans whole san marzano tomatoes, pulsed in a processor with their juices
- 1 28 oz. can crushed san marzano tomatoes
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1. Put the olive oil and butter in a large pot with the minced onion. Turn heat on to medium. Cook and stir onion until translucent. Add the minced garlic and chopped celery and carrot. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring the vegetables to coat them well.
- 2. Add all the meats, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of black pepper. Break up the meat and stir well, cooking until it has lost its raw, red color.
- 3. Add the wine and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. This can take a while. Add the tomato paste, dried and fresh herbs and stir.
- 4. Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that the sauce cooks at the slightest simmer with ocassional bubbles breaking. Cook uncovered for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. If the sauce begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat, add 1/2 C of water to keep it from sticking to the pot. At the end, however, no water should remain and the fat must be separate from the sauce. Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and add the cream, taste and correct for salt and pepper.
- 5. To serve: toss with cooked drained pasta, adding a generous knob of butter when you do. Serve with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano on the side.
- This recipe will make more than you need for an average sized crowd, freeze your left-overs for another day.