Pasta

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

August 27, 2018

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.

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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.

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.

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Top Comment:
“I love your explanation of Bolognese--on fall or winter weekend days, I love nothing more than making a good four-hour Bolognese sauce. However, it seems one of the reasons so many good meat sauces get called Bolognese here is that we have lost the word ragù, probably due to the grocery store product. There's nothing wrong (and a lot right!) with a decent ragù that you wouldn't call a Bolognese by rjgx's definition. But tell most people in the US that you are making ragù sauce and they'll think it came from a jar. So "Bolognese" has an extended meaning for most people. ”
— John T.
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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.

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.


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What's your secret to the perfect bolognese? Let us know in the comments!

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6 Comments

rjgx September 7, 2018
While I like the sound of your recipe, and may even try it someday, it is just for a meat sauce. Please don't call it Bolognese, it is not. Names mean something, and the traditional recipe is revered because it is so different from other Italian meat sauces. While I appreciate any chef's desire to "play" with the standards, a drink, for instance, ceases to be "red wine" if it's color is white and it's made with barley. Capisce? ;-)<br /><br />Traditional prep for this sauce requires "sweating" the meat (not sauteing, not roasting) in milk or cream, with no caramelization of any kind, no rosemary, no thyme, no oven prep. Ingredients include a soffritto of onion, celery and carrot, different types of minced or finely chopped beef, often alongside small amounts of fatty pork or veal, and various aromatic spices. White wine, milk, and a small amount of tomato paste or tomatoes are added, and the dish is then gently simmered at length to produce a thick sauce.<br /><br />The raw pasta is NEVER cooked over time in this dish as the result would be a pasty mess. Cooked pasta is sauteed together with the sauce just before serving, for a few minutes, and then served. Thought you should know, and hope this is helpful. :-)
 
Diane T. September 7, 2018
Thank you so much for your comments above. A Bolognese is a Bolognese is a Bolognese. Diane Savoie
 
Cate September 7, 2018
Thank you so much for a concise explanation of traditional Bolognese sauce. I have looked it up once or twice, only to get a rather and vague ‘meat in sauce’ answer. This traditional sauce sounds well worth the time and effort, and I’m putting it on my to do list. Thanks so much for the lesson RJGX!
 
John T. September 18, 2018
I love your explanation of Bolognese--on fall or winter weekend days, I love nothing more than making a good four-hour Bolognese sauce. However, it seems one of the reasons so many good meat sauces get called Bolognese here is that we have lost the word ragù, probably due to the grocery store product. There's nothing wrong (and a lot right!) with a decent ragù that you wouldn't call a Bolognese by rjgx's definition. But tell most people in the US that you are making ragù sauce and they'll think it came from a jar. So "Bolognese" has an extended meaning for most people.
 
Brenda S. September 7, 2018
I LOVE this idea - can't wait to try it. I now 'bake' my red sauce in the oven exclusively - the roasted flavor is delicious and intense (I add an extra can of crushed tomatoes at the end to re-fresh per another suggestion I found online). I also do my chicken stock this way after bringing to a boil on the stovetop. It eliminates the need to constantly babysit and NO scorched bottoms.
 
SandraH September 7, 2018
I love this idea too! I’m looking forward to making my next bolognese sauce this way and will keep an extra can of tomatoes on hand (maybe a small can of roasted cherry tomatoes) to add near the end if needed to refresh the sauce. Thanks thirschfeld and B Strickland!