An Italian Inspired Meal: How to Make Spaghetti Bolognese

Though I realize that I omitted this from my resolutions post (perhaps I should have listed being more thorough as a goal), one thing that I want to focus on this year, as part of my large goal to enjoy everyday living, is to try to do a little more "gracious living."  Nothing too fancy, since being comfortable is a large part of what I already enjoy about day to day life, but making sure to fully set the table every know and then and to take a little more time and effort to cook special things.

In that vein, I did a very simple, everyday, rustic table setting recently inspired by the time I spent in Italy.

I started with a very simple centerpiece, a mound of the last of my basil, which is flowering, in a low bowl on a wooden platter surrounded by a ring of apples for color.  I've found herbs can be a great low cost floral, lasting a long time.  True, basil can have a strong aroma, not something you usually want around food, but the aroma does fade, and as it's just getting cold here in New Orleans, my thoughts have been turning to comfort food, which in my case is almost always pasta, and usually contains basil.  So in this case, the smell of the basil has enhanced the dining experience.

For the place settings, I used inexpensive bamboo mats from the dollar store, plain white dishes, stemless wine glasses for the red wine, and black tumblers for water.  I wanted to keep everything simple, but I did add individual tiny milk glass bowls to hold grated cheese and parsley.

Better than my usual, but not really note worthy....in this case, it was all about the food.  I made one of my favorites, Spaghetti Bolognese, or spaghetti with meat sauce.
It's hours to dinner, but Cleo is not taking any chances and is already in place for any scraps that fall.

I've talked a lot about food before, but rarely give recipes.  One reason is that I generally don't cook with one.  I've cooked long enough that I now have a good since of what the food needs and what elements are essential and what can be left out.  Note, this nonchalant approach only works with cooking and not baking, which is a precise art.  Hence, why I rarely bake, and when I do, the results turn out like this.

However, I thought that if I started of with my ingredient list  and talked you through step by step, letting you know what I think you can change to meet your own taste, it would work.  So here goes.

Spaghetti Bolognese

  1. 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  (and you're sauteing, so it doesn't have to be the greatest.  you can use just plain vegetable oil, but it will give the extra flavor olive oil does.)
    2. 2 slices of bacon (bolognese is often a mix of meat ingredients.  I find that a little bacon in the beginning adds a delicious smoky flavor.  Just make sure the bacon is not flavored--no applewood or maple smoked.  if you're anti-pork, you could omit this and use just a couple of drops of liquid smoke and and an extra tablespoon of oil.  turkey bacon, though, does not have enough fat to use as a satisfactory substitute.)

3.  1/4-1/2 cup minced tasso.  (tasso is a cajun cured ham.  I actually used turkey tasso.  again, it's about layering flavor, but it's not an essential ingredient.  you could substitute finely minced smoked sausage, keilbasa, or even hard salami instead).

4.   1 large onion. (I used red, but you could use yellow or white, or even the finely chopped white portion of two bunches of green onions.  and if you hate onion, just leave it out.

5.  Green bell pepper, finely chopped.  to taste.  I used one large and two tiny, tiny ones (the last of my crop).  You could use anywhere from 0-2 depending on what you like.  The important thing about the green bell pepper is that it gives a piquant bite to the sauce, so you can always subtitute similar things, like chopped green chilis or even chopped portocino peppers if that's what you have on hand.

6.  two roasted sweet red peppers.  mine were from a jar, but you can easily roast red peppers on your own.  but they should be roasted for the best flavor.

7.  Minced garlic.  I used 4 large cloves, but i love garlic.  adjust to your taste.

8.  About 1 cup of red wine.  I used a cabernet.  just make sure that its a wine you would drink and that it's not sweet.

 9. 4 smallish tomatoes, chopped.  I had them on hand, but you could use a big can of chopped or diced tomatoes.

10.  1 large can of diced tomatoes.

11.  1 small can of tomato paste.  Not actually crucial, but does give sauce that dark, rich, uber-tomato flavor.  If you don't actually like that dark, rich, uber-tomato flavor, omit.

12,  Seasoning.  I used a mix of fresh, about a total cup of a mix of flat leaf and curly parsely, and a handful of chopped basil, along with Paul Prudhome's Italian Blend with an extra dash of dried oregano.  you can use all fresh, all dried, or both.  remember, though that dried herbs have a stronger flavor, and that fresh one can be delicate and should be added in later in the cooking process.

13. approximately one pound of ground chuck.

Cooking directions:

Step 1.  Heat large skillet over medium heat.  After headting for about five minutes, add olive oil and heat until oil is hot, but not smoking (about 3 min.)  Add chopped raw bacon and cook until fat begins to render (about 3-5 minutes).  Add chopped tasso.

Step 2.
While tasso is cooking, add about 1 tablespoon of the italian seasoning, so flavor can infuse the oil.  This only works with dried herbs---fresh one will burn and turn bitter at this point.

 Step 3.  while tasso is cooking, chop the onion and add to pan, stirring regularly to prevent bacon from sticking.

 Step 4.  While onion is cooking (about 5 minutes), chop green bell pepper and add to pan.
 Cook about 5 more minutes.

Step 5, chop roasted red pepper and add to pan, continuing to stir occasionally

 Step 6.  Chop and add garlic.  You have to be careful with garlic...it can easily burn and turn bitter.  I usually add it at the last of the chopped veggies and right before adding liquids.  Cook for about another 3 minutes or so, until garlic is very aromatic, but not brown.

Step 7.  At this point, I put the sauteed veggies into a slow cooker, added the tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and tomato paste, browned the ground chuck and added to the slow cooker, cooking it for 4 hours on high, and switching to 4 hours hours on low for remainder.  I also added about another tablespoon of seasoning (1. I'm from New Orleans where we like things well seasoned, and 2.  It makes a huge batch).  If you can't be home to turn slow cooker, cook all day on low, and crank it up when you get home for last minute cooking if necessary.  Or you can dump it all into a large stock pot, bring to a light boil, and simmer for at least an hour (longer is better), stirring frequently.  Add the chopped fresh herbs in the last hour or so of cooking.

At the end of cooking, it should be a dark, rich red and quite thick.  If it's too thick, you can always add a little liquid, either more wine, a splash of water, or even chicken stock, but always add only a little at a time---it should be a very thick sauce, closer to the consistency of tomato paste than tomato sauce.

 Step 8.  Boil some pasta, and enjoy.  It's traditionally served with spaghetti, but any long strudy pasta like fettucine or linguine will work.  It's too thick a sauce, however for wide flat pastas like bow tie.
This is before the parmesan so you can see the dark, red glossy, sauce, but a little cheese and extra parsley is the way to finish it.

Hope you enjoyed the recipe.

Submitted to Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursday.

1 comment:

Italian Home Decor said...

What makes it more appetizing are the spices involve, I can see several that will surely touch your palate.