- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 sticks of celery, trimmed up and diced (use the leafy bits too!)
- 1 large or 2 small onions, diced
- 1T red wine vinegar
- 1T brown sugar
- 2lbs ground beef (85% works well)
- 6oz tomato paste
- 1 28oz can whole san marzano tomatoes
- Thyme, fresh (a bundle, tied with twine) or dried (1/2t or to taste)
- Dash cayenne, or a pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1t kosher salt
- Beef stock or water
- Black pepper (lots) to taste
- Lemon squeeze
- 1/2 lb dried pasta
- Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with olive oil (~1-2T). On medium-low heat, add carrots, celery, and onions and cook slowly until the veggies reach a glum brown color.
- Add ground beef and break it up aggressively. When the beef bits are very thoroughly browned and textured, add the tomato paste and brown sugar, then mix. Stir, letting the tomato paste caramelize against the meat. Cook for 5-10 min until brown.
- Add whole tomatoes, spices, and salt. Let the sauce come to a boil, then reduce the heat to med-low and simmer as long as you can give it (2h+ is ideal). As the sauce simmers, water will evaporate. You’ll want to replace it slowly with stock or water. Don’t add it all at once! You’ll get nasty boiled meat instead of a rich sauce. Small increments are the key…
- When it’s almost time to eat, start the pasta. Bring a salted pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta, then drain, reserving ½-1c of the starchy pasta water to add to the sauce.
- To finish the sauce, taste and adjust any flavors. A squeeze of lemon juice (about half a lemon) brings a nice clean element to the dish. Fat and acid balance each other out, so depending on how fatty your meat is you can tweak to your liking with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. Add a little more sugar if it tastes too sharp but sufficiently fatty. Pepper does wonders. Salt fixes the “it seems like it’s missing something” problem.
- When everything’s ready, put the noodles into bowls and stir in some sauce. Let the sauce soak into the noodles 10 min before adding more sauce on top. Add cheese if you like..
- Texture is critical with this dish. Make sure your veggies are approximately the same size so that in the end, the sauce takes on a rich, velvety texture that melts in your mouth.
- This dish builds up contrasting textures and flavors that you’ll balance to create harmony. Don’t rush any of the browning steps—you need time to caramelize the sugars in the veggies, meat, and tomato paste. Rush this and you’ll end up with a fatty, acidic pile of meaty goo. Who wants to eat that?
- It works best to salt the dish through each step rather than at the end. So for example, sprinkle salt on the veggies, then on the meat after you add it, then taste and adjust as the tomatoes are added and the sauce simmers. The result is you’ll be able to taste seasoning all the way through each bite of meat and it’s much nicer.
To make this gluten free, simply serve over rice or with quinoa, greens, and steamed veggies (maybe a little wild rice if you’ve got it) instead of pasta. Even if you’re not GF it’s a great way to mix things up.
Add a large handful of diced (for texture sensitive eaters) or sliced (melt in your mouth) mushrooms with the whole tomatoes for extra depth of flavor.
Omit the beef and Parmesan. Add 2 big handfuls of diced button or Cremini mushrooms. Optionally, serve with a dollop of vegan ricotta.
Preheat the oven to 350. Dot tablespoons of ricotta along the bottom of a baking pan as if you were making cookies. Combine a pound of mostly cooked (a little bite to them) penne noodles with ideally day old sauce and pour the noodles over the ricotta. Cover with more ricotta dots, shredded whole milk mozzarella, Parmesan, and if desired, breadcrumbs. Bake until the stuck out noodle ends look very crispy and cheese has browned. Let cool 15 min before serving.
Follow Deb Perelman’s instructions for lasagna bolognese, substituting the red sauce. Don’t skip the nutmeg in the bechamel. This makes a fantastic Christmas dish!