The first time I made a bolognese sauce I did it right. Actually, right isn’t the right word. There’s not exactly a right way to make bolognese (although there are probably some wrong ways). There is, however, a traditional way to do it and that way is very delicious. That traditional way also happens to take many hours of your life.
That’s not to say that it isn’t worth it, but if you are in the mood for a similar flavor profile, you can get there with this recipe.
Baking the bolognese gives the sauce plenty of time to develop good flavors and also frees up your hands so you can do chores while it finishes in the oven. Also, by baking it, you can mix in some cheese because, hey… why not?!
Yield: Serves 6.
8 ounces macaroni or shells pasta, cooked
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1/4 cup red wine
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Salt and pepper
2.5 quart casserole dish
1) In a large pot, add oil over medium-high heat. Then add onions, peppers, and garlic and cook until soft, about five minutes. Season with a pinch of salt.
2) Add ground beef to pot and continue to cook until beef is browned, about 8-10 minutes. Add oregano, marjoram, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt and pepper as the beef browns.
3) When beef is browned, add tomatoes, fresh basil, and red wine. Bring mixture to a simmer and turn heat down to medium low. Simmer, uncovered, until mixture thickens, about 12-15 minutes.
4) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cook pasta according to package. Be sure not to overcook the pasta or your finished dish will be mushy.
5) Drain pasta and stir bolognese sauce into pasta. Stir in cheddar and mozzarella cheese.
6) Transfer finished pasta to a 2 1/2 quart baking dish (or a 9x13 dish) and top generously with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
7) Bake pasta until it's nicely browned around the edges, about 30 minutes.
Let cool for a few minutes before serving.
A Quick Bolognese
Bolognese sauce traditionally starts by slowly rendering pork fat out of bacon or pancetta and then browning beef. Then you simmer all that together with fresh tomatoes and a bunch of other delicious things for the better part of a day.
I skip some of that stuff for this version to save a few hours, but don’t worry. The flavor is still awesome.
Start the sauce by sautéing onions, peppers, and garlic in a large pot over medium heat. Cook them for a few minutes until the veggies are soft and season them with a pinch of salt.
Then add in the ground beef and let it brown well. You can also add in the spices at this point.
It’ll take 10 minutes for the beef to brown nicely and then you can add the crushed tomatoes, red wine, and fresh basil. It was right at this point when I realized I should’ve used a bigger pot!
Bring all of this to a simmer, then turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer for 15-20 minutes to thicken.
Meanwhile, you can make the pasta. You can use a huge range of pastas for this dish but just be careful not to overcook them since they will continue to cook while the dish is baking later.
While all of this is happening, be sure to get your cheese ready. This might look like a lot of cheese but it’s about half of what I would use for a macaroni and cheese dish.
When the pasta is done, drain it and stir the sauce into the pasta. Then stir in both the cheddar and mozzarella cheese.
Transfer this all to a baking dish. A 2 1/2 quart baking dish is perfect but a 9×13 pan will work also. Sprinkle it liberally with bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake the whole thing for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees F. until the edges are browned and it’s bubbling in spots.
Whatever you do, let this cool before you dig into it because it’ll be really hot.
This dish isn’t overly cheesy or creamy like an actual macaroni but the cheese is always good in baked dishes like this. The sauce is plenty savory and it definitely will fool people into thinking you slaved away for hours.
Don’t worry though… I won’t tell if you don’t.