What to CookPasta

This Bolognese Cooks In The Oven (Yup, The Pasta, Too)

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I toss a pinch each of salt and pepper into ground beef, browning in the sauté pan. I use my wooden spatula to swirl in the mirepoix. Then the impulse hits me. “Throw the uncooked pasta into the sauce,” I hear my inner voice say. I shake off the idea as simply lazy—what it really means is that I have no interest in using another pot in which to boil the pasta.

I go back to thinking about all the tweaks I have made over the years to this bolognese recipe.

Photo by Rocky Luten

The mirepoix, for instance: It seems like there is no such thing as too much, so I never measure it, except by instinct. If an onion is big, I’ll use only one; if it is smaller, maybe two—but accurate amounts are optional. The same measurements should be used for the carrots and celery.

Ever since I first made this dish, I’ve always done as I originally did in this recipe and with all red and saucy pasta recipes: I bake the sauce in the oven with a parchment lid placed on top. Something about roasting tomato sauce slowly under parchment makes it better. Maybe it’s the way the tomatoes caramelize at pan’s edge, sweetening the sauce as a spatula scrapes and folds them back into the pan. I am just surmising, but for me, I believe a sauce baked in an oven tastes more intense.

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It is when I am adding dried herbs to the beef mixture that the impulse returns. I am dreading cleaning that pasta boiling pot. I succumb.

It feels all wrong, it is so contradictory to my best intuition, but I let the uncooked pasta fall from my hands and into the sauce. The sauce, already reduced, leaves the rigid noodles looking like white and red striped buoys beached at low tide. I add a cup of water. One cup doesn’t seem like enough, so I add more. The noodles in the pan now look like beginner-swimmers struggling to keep their chins above water, but when I push down on them with my spatula, they won’t submerge.

There, it’s done. There is no going back. All there is to do is bring the liquid to a boil, put a lid on it, and slide it into a 350° F oven and wait.

It’s not like this is the craziest thing I’ve ever done with pasta. For example, I don’t remember the last time I boiled a lasagna noodle before assembly, whether “boil” or “no-boil” noodles. It hasn’t seemed to matter as far as I can tell—both types steam in their tomatoey-cheesey blankets until tender. I often only cook penne for 3 to 4 minutes before draining it and baking it in whatever liquidy sauce I feel like concocting. In my heart of hearts, I know this will work. It simply comes down to how well it will work.

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After twenty minutes in the oven, I remove the pan from the oven and lift the lid. As the steam clears, I can see that the noodles need to be stirred into the sauce. I give them a stir, and I can tell by the clack of my wooden spoon against the pasta that the noodles will need more time. Making sure to use a dry dish towels so I don't burn myself on the hot pan, I cover it and slide the dish back into the oven for another 10 minutes.

This time, I can already tell even as the steam just begins to clear: Magic has happened. The noodles are perfectly cooked, and the sauce is just the right consistency.

Chuck Roast Bolognese

Chuck Roast Bolognese

thirschfeld thirschfeld
Serves 6
  • Olive oil
  • 1 pound well-marbled chuck roast, cut into very small cubes, or ground beef
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Turkish oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock or water
  • 1 cup strained tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk or cream (optional)
  • 1 pound sturdy pasta, such as calamaritti, rigatoni, penne, farfalle
  • Grated Parmesan, for garnish
  • Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Go to Recipe

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Tags: Dinner