Rigatoni Bolognese

December 1, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

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December marks the transition from the sweet confections of Thanksgiving to the more complex, rewarding foods of winter. Sure, there’s still Hanukkah with its fried latkes and apple sauce (an easy thrill) and Christmas with its sticky, gooey ham (which could fit comfortably on the Thanksgiving table) but, for the most part, when the weather gets cold, the food gets better. Case in point? Marcella Hazan’s Rigatoni Bolognese.

Bolognese is like the sophisticated, better dressed cousin of chili. Those dusty, over-aged canisters of cumin and chili powder in your cabinet have no place in a Bolognese; here, the marriage of ground beef and tomatoes is harmonized elegantly with a strange, elusive combination of milk (which gets absorbed into the meat first), wine (which gets absorbed second) and, finally, that most bewitching of winter spices: nutmeg.

But it’s milk, in fact, which is at the root of what makes Bolognese so fantastic: this, unlike most olive oil based sauces, is a lactic exercise. The vegetables are sauteed in butter, then there’s the milk added to the meat, and finally you add more butter and grated cheese at the end. Bolognese, therefore, might be seen as the ultimate celebration of the cow: both its meat and its milk are used to achieve a sublime whole. I can’t think of a better dish to serve on a cold winter’s night; the union of meat and milk–two instantly familiar foods, both nourishing in their own ways–is a direct formula for cold weather comfort.

So how do you make it?

It’s really easy. You just need time (about three hours) and the following ingredients:

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That’s:

1 Tbs vegetable oil

3 Tbs butter plus 1 Tbs for tossing the pasta

1/2 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup chopped celery

2/3 cup chopped carrot

3/4 pound ground beef chuck

Salt

Black pepper, fresh from the mill

1 cup whole milk

Whole nutmeg

1 cup dry white wine (I used Vermouth and it worked fine)

1 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds pasta (I used just 1 pound of dried rigatoni)

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese

[Note: the amounts of onion, celery, carrots, meat, etc. don't need to be exact. I sort of eyeballed it, using more than the recipe instructed.]

1. Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in the pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook until the onion’s translucent, then add the celery and carrot and cook for 2 minutes more until coated well.

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2. Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper; crumble the meat with a fork and stir until the beef has lost its raw, red color. [Don't take it too far here; remember, it's going to cook for a few hours more.]

3. Now the cool part: add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely.

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Add a tiny grating–about 1/8 teaspoon–of nutmeg and stir. (I added a bit more than that, but it’s not advisable. I just really like nutmeg.)

4. Add the wine, let it simmer until it’s evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients.

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When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers (just an intermittent bubble here and there). Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. (This is a recipe to start late in the afternoon so you’re not dying of hunger when it’s done 3 hours later.) According to Marcella: “While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, continue the cooking, adding 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.”

Look how different it looks three hours later:

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If that picture doesn’t arouse your tastebuds, your tastebuds are dead on the inside and need to get out of this relationship. Seriously: that image is enough to make me want to eat Bolognese forever.

5. At the 3 hour mark, or 10 minutes before, cook your rigatoni in lots of boiling water until al dente. Add to the Bolognese pot with 1 Tbs butter and stir all around.

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Serve with lots of grated Parmesan and enjoy the first truly wonderful taste of winter. You’ll wish it stayed cold forever.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Pasta and Risotto, Recipes

  • http://foodeatenlifelived.blogspot.com Lainey

    I am definitely trying this one. Probably on a weeekend.

  • Audiart

    Not to commit bolognese treason – but suppose one wanted to omit the meat in this recipe, does the sauce still need to simmer for the full 3 hours? I am not familiar with cooking beef, but it seems a long time to thicken only the tomatoes.

    Thank you for this recipe, it looks spectacular!

  • http://nightbaking.blogspot.com jami

    Yum! This reminds me that I haven’t made Bolognese in years. I learned to make it from a family friend who is from Bologna. She makes hers with part beef, part pork (maybe 60/40). So good and worth the slow cooking time!

  • http://mrswskitchen.blogspot.com Amanda

    Beautifully executed. I can almost taste it from here.

  • Earl Schiffke

    I thought true bolognese called for red wine ?

    I am sure white would be fine as this is one hell of a pasta dish.

    The addition of a bay leaf or a little garlic would not hurt either Adam.

  • Earl Schiffke

    I thought true bolognese called for red wine ?

    I am sure white would be fine as this is one hell of a pasta dish.

    The addition of a bay leaf or a little garlic would not hurt either Adam.

  • Caroline in San Francisco

    Hey, great minds think alike! I made a batch of bolognese sauce this weekend too. I added some applewood smoked bacon (just because I had some around), and cooked the onion in the bacon fat. At first, the sauce was too bacony/smokey, but on day-2 the flavor definitely mellowed. Slow cooked sauces and braised meat are one of the best parts of winter.

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    Great looking pasta! Rigatoni is my favorite pasta shape as I’m convinced it makes the sauce better with its ridges and large tube shape :)

  • http://smallkitchenbigideas.wordpress.com Sara

    This looks so good. I think I’ll making it this weekend, too.

  • Red

    Hi – this is my first post on this site, and I am a novice cook.

    This recipe is a test in just how low the heat on a range top can go.

    I made this recipe once from Hazan’s book (“Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”), and I did have a problem at the end with all the liquid evaporating out. It occurred about 90 minutes into the cooking, I was using a gas-lit rangetop. We ended up quickly making four (!) rings out of heavy duty tin foil to raise the Le Creuset pot higher off the burner, one ring stacked on top of the other, but in the end even that wasn’t enough to keep the liquid from evaporating out. So in the end I resorted to turning off the flame entirely for a bit to let the pot cool down some, and then re-heating it.

    I added water once, but was reluctant to keep doing so, as I was afraid that it would water down the taste (pardon the pun). I’m curious if Adam or anyone else has had the same problem and what they did to resolve it.

    I think this is also a case of what type of pot to use. The dutch oven that I used (a 7.25 qt / 6.7 L Le Creuset) was rather wide, and had a lot of surface area on the bottom, which made it easier for liquids to evaporate out (as the recipe calls for everything to simmer uncovered). I think a pot with a smaller diameter, and perhaps taller in height, would have worked better.

    My kitchen did smell great, though, and it turned out fine, though I was tired at the end. And we had leftovers for the next day.

  • http://scalloped-edge.blogspot.com Joanna

    Oh, I LOVE this sauce! It’s been my go-to special occasion recipe for years, and also my go-to cold weekend recipe once or twice a year. I actually made it earlier this year already, on a particularly dreary Saturday in October, but I will definitely be making it again before the winter ends.

    I always add more tomatoes than called for (usually a whole 28 oz. can) and I add the wine before the milk, which is what the recipe in her original book said to do. I know she revised it in the new version, but I’ve tried it both ways and I just think wine before milk leads to a creamier sauce. (Sorry Marcella! This is the only time I’ve ever doubted you!)

  • Zhopsik

    Red: if your gas cooktop can’t be turned low enough you can buy a flame-tamer (I got mine at Sur La Table) which will solve the problem. It is useful for other things, such as sauces that you don’t want to scorch. And Le Creuset is the best for Bolognese!

    BTW, I usually have an orgy of Bolognese-making periodically and divvy the results up into small freezer containers that I can pull out whenever I need a no-brainer meal.

  • http://www.jessedup.com Jess

    I love the bolognese. My only differences are heavy cream instead of milk (I know…) and red wine instead of white. Fatter? Certainly. It’s not the every night meal but the one that satisfies me once a month. The heavy cream makes it much more rich – but the tomatoes really hold their own in cutting it. It’s a pot full of luuv.

    It’s even better if you put it with a smaller pasta, cut up some fresh mozz and bake it for a while. That and some garlic rubbed french bread and I am a happy girl!

  • zeep

    My lord, this looks phenomenal – I think I may have just figured out my dinner plans for the evening – thanks for the inspiration AG!

  • Blaine

    This looks amazing! Can you use lamb instead?

  • Andrew

    so I just made this for dinner tonight. My roommate and I finished off the entire batch. It was the first time I didnt use sauce out of a jar and it just blew my mind. thanks Adam!

  • Dan

    I also just made this and my only question was…How did yours get so red? With the addition of milk and white wine and a relatively small amount of tomatoes, mine ended up much more in the pale brown end of the spectrum.

    Any thoughts?

    D

  • http://foodphotoblog.com/ foodphotoblog.com

    Nice photo sequence, Rigatoni makes a good holiday food respite, thanks for the inspiration. Think I will make some this weekend.

  • zeep

    Ok, it took longer than expected – but I am finally making this – right now, as a matter of fact; the laptop is in the kitchen! so far so good…

  • Tina

    I’m with Dan — mine was not red enough, but still delicious. Thanks!

  • Lawrence

    Ya, I think a full 28 ounce can of tomatoes + juice might be needed to get it as red as the pics. Is that right??

  • Mike

    Ok, made it tonight. Good flavor–used an entire box of rigatoni, and will probably have dinner sewn up for tonight plus 3 more with spouse (total of 8 servings).

    I used 28oz can of tomatoes, and next time may add some more, just because I prefer a tomato flavor. Very good with 28oz though.

  • Mike

    Ok, made it tonight. Good flavor–used an entire box of rigatoni, and will probably have dinner sewn up for tonight plus 3 more with spouse (total of 8 servings).

    I used 28oz can of tomatoes, and next time may add some more, just because I prefer a tomato flavor. Very good with 28oz though.

  • Vickie

    I just made this recipe (though used no butter & didn’t add cheese, as my 8-week old infant is lactose intolerant & I’m her only food supply–the cream is going to be punishment enough for us both) after 8 years of making Bolognese using Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything (though with his recipe I’ve rarely used dairy just because my husband and I liked it that way).

    The results were wonderful! I would make it again this way in the future–it also seemed to cook faster, and as my husband and I were starving my TOTAL cook time was about 3.5 hours–including all the browning/evaporating time. I used bucati instead of rigatoni since I like that shape. I also used pancetta, as per Mark Bittman’s recipe.

    Perfect for cold nights, indeed! Thanks Adam for sharing!

  • Vickie

    I just made this recipe (though used no butter & didn’t add cheese, as my 8-week old infant is lactose intolerant & I’m her only food supply–the cream is going to be punishment enough for us both) after 8 years of making Bolognese using Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything (though with his recipe I’ve rarely used dairy just because my husband and I liked it that way).

    The results were wonderful! I would make it again this way in the future–it also seemed to cook faster, and as my husband and I were starving my TOTAL cook time was about 3.5 hours–including all the browning/evaporating time. I used bucati instead of rigatoni since I like that shape. I also used pancetta, as per Mark Bittman’s recipe.

    Perfect for cold nights, indeed! Thanks Adam for sharing!

  • Vickie

    I forgot to add that I cheated on this a bit–I saved about 30 minutes (my knife skills are atrocious and I still don’t have a good knife) by using Trader Joe’s mire-poix mix! Totally worth the $3 to get the recipe going that much more quickly.