I watched an episode of America's Test Kitchen featuring a recipe for "Weeknight Bolognese Sauce" The addition of 4 cups of beef broth resulted in a thin sauce that was artificially made thicker with a generous 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese stirred in at the end of the 30 minute cooking time. This was not the Bolognese sauce I wanted to achieve in a short cooking time. Research for the best Bolognese sauce was easy as the two best Italian cooks, Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan, have their recipes perfected. If you have the afternoon free and can stay in the kitchen for 3-4 hours their recipes are classics. Lidia's Bolognese is heartier with the addition of red wine. Marcella's recipe is lighter in flavor with the addition of white wine and a pinch of nutmeg. Both recipes require 2-3 hours cooking time to develop the flavors. My goal was to develop the flavors of a classic Bolognese in about an hour's cooking time.
The flavors of classic Bolognese sauce is developed in layers. I find this technique much like making risotto; each layer of liquid is cooked until evaporated before more liquid is added. Classic Bolognese starts with coarsely chopped onion, carrots and celery sauteed in olive oil and butter. Next the meat is added and cooked just until lightly browned. Next step is to add the milk and simmer gently and stir frequently until all the liquid has "bubbled" away. Then the wine is added, and again, simmered until evaporated. The last addition are the tomatoes and seasonings which are cooked and stirred until the sauce is perfectly thickened; about 2-3 hours cooking time with lots of stirring in between. There is no garlic or basil in a classic Bolognese sauce.
Why can't the same bold Bolognese flavor be developed in less than one hour? My recipe uses inexpensive boneless beef blade steak that is coarsely ground in the food processor. I also eliminate the celery because it gives a bitter flavor to the sauce. I like the flavor of butter and extra virgin olive oil to soften the vegetables. A tablespoon of brown sugar helps brown the vegetables and meat resulting in a slight caramelized flavor. I use crushed tomatoes that cook to a thicker smoother consistency. I also like to use dry white wine (I used an Italian Pinot Grigio), bay leaves and ground nutmeg. Instead of milk I use half and half. The finished Bolognese does not have that layer of fat and is thick, robust and slightly sweet. A pound of pasta and hot crusty bread are all you need for a perfectly easy Bolognese...in about an hour.
COOKS NOTES: The food processor makes this recipe even faster and easier. First coarsely chop the peeled carrots, then the peeled onion separately. Wipe out the bowl and pulse the meat just until coarsely chopped. Have all your ingredients measured and ready to add to the pot. —Lorraine Fina Stevenski