Monday, February 22, 2010

So Spoiled - Bolognese Sauce

February in the Bay Area. It's a bit unreal actually. The trees are bursting into blossom, the hills are a bright and verdant green, the temperature hovers around 65 or so, every so often creeping it's way up to 70, and the chill of the winter sun starts to subside a bit, giving off a warm, gentle light that promises spring is just around the corner.

We're spoiled here. A light sweatshirt or sweater will do when walking around town. The farmer's markets are open year round, and the outdoor German beer hall, The Tourist Club on Mt. Tam, never closes. Even in the dead of a Bay Area winter.

To be fair, it was a bit cold on Mt. Tam yesterday. A jacket was required. But once you scrounged out a patch of sun on the big wooden deck, it was warm and beautiful.

The Tourist Club happens to be my favorite Bay Area hike. I'm a fan of destination hikes. Especially when they end in tasty and refreshing beverages. It just makes it all seem worth it. And if the beer wasn't enough, there's the view.

Not bad, eh? The picture doesn't do it it justice.

So, after a decent hike, and a pint of beer, the chill in the air gained a bit of a bite. Clouds were rolling in and the forecast called for rain. I knew a simmering bolognese was in my future.

I've been craving Italian food lately. Actually, I almost always crave a bowl of pasta and a good sauce. There's something so right about it. I turned my attention to my Le Cruset, laundry and the Olympics. A pretty good Saturday evening, if you ask me. I'd had more than a few nights out in the past week and I was dying to stay home and relax. This bolognese really hit the spot.

I sort of riffed off Macella Hazan (for her inclusion of tomatoes and her pinch of nutmeg) and Mario Batali (for his use of garlic). I wouldn't call this sauce strictly authentic. That would require less tomatoes and zero garlic, I think. Two things that, in my mind, always enhance a sauce. I really couldn't have been happier with the results. The epitome of comfort.

Bolognese Sauce
adapted from Marcella Hazan & Mario Batali
serves about 6

4 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lb ground beef
1 cup milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 whole nutmeg, or a pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 tube tomato paste
1 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes, diced or torn into pieces, with juice
1-¼ to 1-½ pounds pasta, cooked and drained
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Parmesan for topping

Heat oil, butter and chopped onion in a heavy 3-½-quart pot and turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent, then add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.

Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until the beef has browned, and the red color has disappeared from the meat.

Add the milk and simmer gently, stirring frequently until the liquid has evaporated. Add a tiny pinch or grate of the nutmeg and stir.

Next, add the wine. Let the liquid simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and tomato paste, and stir to coat all ingredients. Once the mixture beings to bubble, turn the heat to low and continue to cook at a low simmer for 1 1/2 hours. If time permits, simmer for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Taste for salt and pepper. Cook pasta in salted water according to directions. When pasta is cooked and drained, add half a tablespoon of butter to the pasta, top with sauce and Parmesan. Serve while hot.

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