Bolognese Sauce and the Garlic Vinaigrette

February 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

To me, few things marry more perfectly than spaghetti Bolognese and green salad with the homemade vinaigrette. That’s why I almost always serve them together. I also like to add some firm, green vegetable such as asparagus or green beans to this sauce when they are in season (I am all about seasonal cooking here, dontcha know!). Asparagus blends in especially well, in my opinion.

You probably remember that I recently posted the recipe for the sauce in the context of the toast pizza. The differences between that and what I use on my pasta are 1)the amount of tomatoes used – 2 qts for Bolognese, and only 1 qt for the pizza sauce, and, 2)the addition of beef and milk to the Bolognese. The latter is actually a new practice for me, and I can’t say that milk alters the taste dramatically, but it adds an extra layer of smoothness and richness. I wonder what it would be like with heavy cream instead.

Personally I really love this sauce – it takes relatively little time and effort to prepare, it is nice enough to serve to company, yet straightforward enough for a casual mid-week supper. If you would like to try mine, here’s what to do:

You will be needing a pound of ground beef. Thaw it out if it is frozen. I almost always thaw all of my meat out in water, and that includes hamburger. It doesn’t change the texture much, but it allows me to have it ready within two hours of taking it out of the freezer. Just make sure your hamburger is still in its plastic wrap.

It will look like this when it is ready to go – a bit on the pale side, but that doesn’t matter. It browns just fine.

Now heat some oil in a cast iron skillet (or some other skillet). Myself, I am a big fan of cast iron – that’s almost exclusively what I cook in, except when I have to boil stuff, because I like the weight, the heat distribution, and the natural non-stick coating that builds up over time. I have four such skillets – one small, two medium, one extra large, plus two dutch ovens – a cast iron one for baking bread, and an enameled one for cooking pretty much everything else. All of mine are from Lodge.

Just before the oil reaches the smoking point, add your meat to the skillet. Stir and scrape immediately. A metal spatula works kind of good for that – better than a wooden one.

It will release a lot of juice, but that’s just fine. It will all evaporate shortly. Keep cooking it, stirring frequently.

Pretty soon the beef will lose its pinkness and the liquid will begin to evaporate. Now’s a good time to season it. You can use salt and pepper, but my go-to spice is the Montreal Steak Seasoning.

Soon the liquid will have evaporated completely, and the meat will begin to brown in earnest… This is all happening over medium heat.

You can keep browning it beyond this point, if you like, but this is good enough for me.

The preliminary steps for the preparation of the vegetables for the sauce can be found here. Come back when you get to the point of sauteing them.


Ah! You’re back! Here’s what to do next:

Saute all of the vegetables in oil until they look like this.

Add 2-3 T of tomato paste and stir it in over low heat. While you may omit it when preparing the meatless pizza sauce, I find that I absolutely have to have it in the Bolognese to balance out the meat.

Now process 2 qts of whole canned tomatoes in a food processor together with their canning liquid (you may wanna go 1 quart at a time to avoid the flood of tomato juice on your counter, which sometimes happens) or, if you don’t have one, just chop them up by hand. That’s what I used to do.

Now here's my idea of the floating island!

Add the browned hamburger to the pot, and add wine and Worcestershire.

Now add all the spices. I used basil, oregano, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. I don’t skimp on spices – I am into the idea that more is more.

Now stir everything in, and simmer until the meat is tender and the sauce has reached your desired thickness (which, for me, is not very thick).

While the sauce is simmering, let’s make some salad dressing for our salad.

You are going to need these:

Oil (I use exclusively the local organic sunflower oil for all of my cooking/dressings, but olive oil will do just fine, and even canola will do in a pinch if you are all out of the good stuff), balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, our old friends basil and oregano, stone-ground mustard, and a generous clove of garlic which you are going to have to press for this, never mince. It must, simply must give all of its juices to the dressing, hence the pressing. After all, garlic is the primary player in this assertive vinnaigrette (it’s like me that way).

Note, by the way, my wonderful garlic press – it cleans itself. They cost about $20 and last about two years given as much garlic as I press around here, but are totally worth replacing. I am currently on my third one.

We start with a 1/2 C of oil.

Now add some (1-2 T) balsamic vinegar (it must be balsamic – for the element of sweetness it imparts, and for its thickness).

Now add your stone-ground mustard – I use it to thicken and emulsify the dressing, and for extra tang. I would say about 2 t.

Now add about this much oregano…

…and  basil.

Now add a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, 1 T lemon juice, and, the crowning glory of it all – THE PRESSED GARLIC. I could be praying to garlic. Really.

Now pour everything you’ve accumulated in your cup into a jar, cover the jar, and shake it as if your life depended on it. The dressing is now done. I love the cloudy look it has – it’s the mustard doing that.

By now, your sauce will have thickened. That’s about thick enough for me. Now add your milk, and heat everything through. Don’t boil – just let the milk heat up.

Now add some chopped parsley.

Remove from heat immediately and give everything one final stir… and your sauce is ready!

Now for that salad. I like my salad with chunks of avocado and a large amount of finely crumbled feta and blue cheese – I am a recent blue cheese convert, you see.

Regarding the application of the dressing: I believe that proper lubrication is key to good salad, and I find few things more disheartening than salad dressing drizzled on top – there’s no way to properly incorporate it on the narrow expanse of a plate, so you end up with some isolated puddles of dressing and many dry, tasteless leaves. This is why I encourage you to dress your salad in a serving bowl, and to toss it with vigor for some extended period of time – this also allows the cheeses and the avocado to be smeared all over the lettuce leaves, giving them some extra body and flavor, so…

…so it can look like this!

As to the sauce, serve it on top of spaghetti with a small mountain of Parmesan grated on top (you really have to have a micro-plane grater for that, which magically transforms hard cheeses into delicate shavings).

Sofya’s More-is-More Bolognese Sauce

  • 1-2 onions, chopped
  • several garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 carrots, diced small
  • 1/2 C of olive or high-quality sunflower oil
  • 2 qts whole canned tomatoes, processed until smooth together with their canning liquid, or chopped finely with a knife, liquid reserved
  • 2-3 T tomato paste
  • 1 lb hamburger
  • Montreal Steak Seasoning, for seasoning the hamburger
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 1 T dried basil
  • 2 t nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 C milk (try heavy cream or half-and-half sometime, and then come back here and let me know)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 C red wine
  • a dash of Worcestershire
  • a few sprigs of parsley, chopped

Brown the hamburger in oil in a cast iron skillet and season generously with the Montreal Steak Seasoning. While the hamburger is browning, saute the onions, carrots, and garlic in oil in a large enameled dutch oven. When all of the vegetables are tender and browned, add all of the other listed ingredient except milk and parsley. Simmer until the hamburger is tender and the sauce has thickened considerably. If desired, add 2 C of green beans or asparagus, cut into 3/4″ sections, and cook briefly until the vegetables are just tender. Add milk and heat through, but don’t let it boil Add parsley and remove from heat.

I also make the following variation – add about 1 C of grated cheddar and 1/3 C grated parmesan cheese before you add the milk (a pile of cheese never hurt anything). Stir all the cheeses in until they melt. Proceed as above. This is so, so excruciatingly delicious. Promise me you’ll try it.

Garlic Power Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 C oil
  • 1-2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 t basil
  • 1 t oregano
  • 2 T stone-ground mustard
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed

Mix everything together in a small jar, cover the jar, and shake vigorously. Dress the salad in the serving bowl and be sure to toss thoroughly.

Note: These can also be made with ground venison instead of beef, or a combination of the two.

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