Slow Simmered Bolognese Sauce with Pappardelle Pasta
Meaty, rich, slow simmered bolognese sauce is one of the world’s all-time greatest comfort foods. This recipe with bacon and red wine is my favorite way to make this delicious classic Italian sauce.
If I am at a good restaurant and there is pasta bolognese on the menu, it’s pretty much a sure thing I’m going to order it. It doesn’t matter what my intentions were up until that point, or how long I comb the menu for other options. The word, “bolognese” lodges itself in my brain and convinces me that there is nothing else in the world I want more.
Why do I love it so? I mean. When done correctly, it tastes freekin’ fabulous. So, there’s that. But also, there’s something about it that satisfies that deep, human need to feel nourished.
I’m not talking about “nourished” in a eat-your-veggies kind of way. I mean the kind of nourished that leaves you feeling all warm and content. Happy and cared for.
Nourished like your grandmother’s apple pie. That’s the feeling I get from a plate of slow simmered, rich, savory pasta bolognese.
I even love the word bolognese. I want to say it with an Italian accent in an animated conversation in which my hands are a crucial part of the communication process. (Really, I kinda just want to BE Italian. But that’s another conversation.)
The magic of Bolognese Sauce and why it’s one of the world’s GREATEST comfort foods.
The sexier side of ground beef.
You didn’t know ground beef had a sexy side, did you?
One of the most magical things about bolognese sauce is the rich depth of flavor that’s possible with ground beef. When browned gently and cooked slowly in wine and tomatoes, ground beef develops a rich, tenderness you didn’t know it had.
Also, if you cook ground beef quickly over high heat it turns into rubber. And not in a good way. 🙄
Ground beef is a slow bloomer. Be gentle. You have to coax the flavor from it. And, if that’s not sexy enough for you… there’s bacon.
Honestly, if you’re going to be all traditional, you should use pancetta instead of bacon. But, I gotta be honest with you. I prefer bacon. I think the quality of pancetta that’s available to me at my local market is part of the problem. If I was making bolognese sauce in Italy (Oh, how I wish that were true!), I’d most certainly use, and be thrilled with pancetta. But, in my little supermarket, the bacon is better.
Tomatoes, wine, and why this Bolognese doesn’t include milk.
I’ve seen several bolognese sauce recipes that start with fresh tomatoes and I’m sure they are delicious. The problem with fresh tomatoes is that you really gotta roast them first if you’re going to maximize their flavor. While Roasted Tomato Sauce is one of my favorite things in the whole wide world during the few weeks of the year when tomatoes are actually in season, I want to make bolognese ALL. YEAR. LONG.
Delicious bolognese sauce is attainable any time of year when you begin with canned crushed tomatoes (preferably fire roasted) and some tomato paste. Also, the sauce requires a fairly long simmer to develop the best flavor. Adding another hour to roast fresh tomatoes requires more patience than I possess.
The wine in bolognese is there for two reasons: it adds flavor and acidity. Yes, tomatoes are also acidic. But, they really only get you about halfway there. In order to really balance out the richness from the ground beef and bacon, you need a generous amount of acidity.
Also, wine adds another dimension of flavor. You can add white or red, it’s up to you. If using white, make sure it’s a dry variety (not sweet at all). I generally prefer red, most often reaching for a good bottle of Chianti, pouring some in the pot and the rest in my glass. Naturally.
Most “traditional” bolognese sauce recipes include a bit of milk. Which sounds weird in a way, but is actually really super delicious. Milk boosts the fat content in the sauce and adds a kind of velvety richness. But you know what else accomplishes all those things? Bacon fat.
Pancetta is a lot leaner than bacon, so if you’re using it, you might consider adding about a cup of milk when you add the broth. If you’re using bacon, there’s no need. The sauce will be as rich and velvety as can be without any milk.
Don’t skip the slow simmer.
Just like a good marinara sauce, bolognese needs a long, slow simmer to concentrate the flavor and thicken into the glorious culinary masterpiece that it is. It will make your house smell so amazing that it will be very, very difficult to wait. Wait anyway. Every trite quote about the value of patience is true in this case.
Let’s talk about the pasta.
My absolute favorite way to eat bolognese sauce is over pappardelle pasta. Pappardelle is like super wide fettuccini. From what I understand, the name pappardelle comes from the Italian word “pappare”, which means to gobble up. (I can’t tell you how much I love Italians for having a word for gobbling something up.)
In my experience, pappardelle is aptly named, because gobbling it up is exactly the right thing to do with it, especially if it’s covered in bolognese sauce. Those wide, flat noodles were made for thick, meaty sauces like bolognese.
If you are the pasta making sort – or aspire to be the pasta making sort – Pappardelle pasta is infinitely better if it’s fresh than dried (here’s my favorite homemade pasta recipe). So get out that pasta machine and get rolling.
If you’re new to homemade pasta, check out this step-by-step tutorial. Homemade pasta is easier than most people think and crazy good. To make pappardelle, use a pasta machine to roll the pasta into sheets that are a thickness level of #4. Lay the sheets of pasta out onto the countertop and use a pizza wheel or sharp knife to cut them into strips that are approximately 1-inch wide.
Let the strips of pappardelle rest for about 30 minutes, which allows them to dry slightly, before cooking.
If you don’t want to use pappardelle, fettuccini, tagiatelle, or rigatoni are also good choices.
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 lb bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 & 1/2 lbs ground chuck, 80% lean
- salt and pepper
- 1 medium red or yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup coarsely carrots
- 3/4 cup coarsely celery
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 2 tsp crushed red pepper
- 1 cup dry red or white wine
- One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably fire roasted
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- About 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or parsley, or a combination of both
- Pappardelle pasta (or fettuccini, tagiatelle, or rigatoni). Plan on about 16 ounces (1 lb) for 4 servings.
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottom saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat until warm. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat until the bacon fat has rendered and the bacon is beginning to crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the saucepan, letting it drain on a paper towel lined plate.
- Add the ground chuck to the saucepan, sprinkle with 1 tsp of salt, and return it to medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beef is brown. Drain the beef in a colander set over a large bowl to catch the fat.
- While the bacon and ground beef are cooking, add the onion, celery, and carrots to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Pulse until the vegetables are very finely chopped.
- Add 2-3 tbsp of the fat back into the saucepan and return it to medium heat. Add the vegetable mixture. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 6-7 minutes. Add the tomato paste, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp ground black pepper to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes longer.
- Add the wine and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently, until nearly all the wine has evaporated or been absorbed by the vegetables.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and sugar to the saucepan, stirring to combine. Add the ground beef and bacon back into the saucepan.
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then turn the heat down to a temperature low enough to maintain a very gentle simmer.
- Cook, stirring from time to time, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is nice and thick, about 1 & 1/2 to 2 hours. Towards the end of cooking, maintain a temperature low enough that bubbles break free from the sauce only here and there – a very gentle simmer.
- Taste and add more salt if desired. Stir in the fresh herbs right before serving.
- To cook the pasta: Bring a large saucepan of water to boil over high heat. Add 1 tbsp salt. If using dried pasta, cook according to the package instructions. If using fresh pappardelle, cook about 2 minutes. Drain and serve with the sauce and parmesan cheese.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 475Total Fat: 28gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 73mgSodium: 1497mgCarbohydrates: 24gFiber: 5gSugar: 14gProtein: 28g