Sunday, January 15, 2012

Barbara Lynch's Bolognese

I've made this bolognese, from Barbara Lynch's Stir cookbook, a number of times. I was also fortunate enough to have this dish at one of the chef's restaurants in Boston, Sportello (I also ate at another of her restaurants, No. 9 Park, which was one of the best meals I've had in my life). Watching them make it at the restaurant, the pasta and sauce are obviously both made earlier in the day, but as they construct your dish, in goes a nob of butter and a handful of Parmesan, followed by a final topping of parm before it's served to you. It's like meat butter, and it's fabulous. Both my mother and I had the dish, and if our bellies would have allowed, the bowl would never have ended. This recipe takes the better part of a day to make, so start it early. The active part is probably only 1 hour (after which you can leave it to do its magic), but it needs to (and wants to) simmer most of the day. Trust me - your dinner mates will thank you for it. No short-cuts.

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 5 ounces chicken livers, trimmed and finely chopped (trust me - you don't want to omit these, even if you don't like chicken livers. They add a great depth of flavour.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
  • 1-1/2 lbs ground meat - ideally 1/2 lb each of veal, pork and lamb. If you can't find ground veal, use the best ground beef you can find. Also, I prefer Ontario lamb as I find it less gamey than New Zealand lamb, but go for what you like.
  • 1-1/2 cups dry red wine (remember, don't put it in your cooking unless you'd enjoy drinking it!)
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken broth (best is if you make it from scratch, but I realize one doesn't always have time for this)
  • 1 14.5oz can (1-1/2 cups) chopped canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream (optional ... I would personally omit the cream as I find the sauce doesn't stick to the pasta as well once you add it in, but the recipe does call for it ... albeit optional in her version, too)
  • kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
Before we go on further, a note about the pasta ... I encourage you to make home-made fresh pasta. It's amazing what a difference it makes. It elevates the whole dish. However, I realize not everyone has the patience, the desire, the cooking utensils or the time to make it. If you don't make your own, buy very good quality fresh pasta from a local purveyor (versus some of the shitty stuff in grocery stores), or use a high quality dry fettuccine or papardelle like Garofalo or even President's Choice Black Label.

For the pasta dough ingredients and recipe, click here!

Okay, now onto making the bolognese ...
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or deep skillet/pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally until tender (8-10 minutes). Add the chicken livers and sage, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the livers lose their red colour (2-3 minutes).
  2. Add the ground meat in batches, letting it brown before adding more. Season with salt & pepper. Cook until no red remains. Pour off most of the fat (this step actually is important, so take some time, a ladle or spoon, and drain off that fat). Add the wine and increase heat to high and boil it until the wine is almost gone (10-15 minutes). Note: all throughout the cooking, you'll want to break up the meat clumps ... the finer you can break up the meat, the more creamy the sauce will be.
  3. Add the broth, tomatoes and basil. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer; you should see the occasional bubble but not a boil. Cook, uncovered, until the sauce is dark, rich and thick. Cook at MINIMUM 1 hour, but I suggest 3-5 hours of cooking for best results.
  4. If you want, at this point add in the cream (like I said, I'd leave it out, as I find it doesn't stick to the pasta as well, and doesn't add much). Be sure to taste it at this point. If the flavours aren't deep and rich, try adding in a bit of salt and cooking it longer. You could also add Parmesan into the sauce (in addition to adding it to the finished dish, of course!). Serve over fresh pasta and enjoy!

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