I walked by half a bottle of reasonably good red wine sitting open on my dining room table early yesterday afternoon and noted in an offhand sort of way, to Lucia, that leaving the cork off that long was a damn shame because it was no longer drinkable. Wasted. Damn. However, perfect for a good bolognese. This part stumped her. What do you mean, perfect for a good bolognese? You just said it was ruined.
This is what you do with leftover table wine of the red variety. You make a red sauce out of it. If you have half a bottle, you make bolognese. She's forgotten. It's been nearly four years since I stopped cooking and probably quite a bit longer than that since I spontaneously whipped up a decent bolognese. Hard to say. That part of my life instantly evaporated and I guess I finally wrote it off as one of the things that flew out the front door with the sudden departure of my husband and step-children.
That percolated for awhile as she licked her chops.
We'd been in our jammies for a day and a half; this luxury a requirement for both of us. I handed her my bank card and car keys and said, run to Peter's and get me a pound of ground beef and some tomato paste. She looked down at her fury jammies and back at me. I didn't say much of anything but this gave me long enough to rattle off the rest of the list because I just didn't have these things in my house anymore. Carrots, celery, two cans of diced tomatoes and either pancetta or prosciutto. I could have used bacon but it's not quite the same.
My jammies and I wandered into the kitchen, pulled out the cuisinart and the previously AWOL blade and got to work on the base.
Diced, or in my case, obliterated celery, carrots and onion cooked until browned, not burned in olive oil. A good amount of olive oil. Don't be stingy. If you're trying to make something low fat, move along, please, this isn't for you. It's also not heart attack inducing but it's not politically correct either. Where was I? Browned but not burned. By the time you're done cooking over medium low, the bottom of the pan should be browned. Nothing worse than raw veggies in a sauce. Blech. In the mean time, 3 ounces (because I didn't have 4) of prosciutto were also obliterated in the cuisinart and then added to the mix. Don't get excited by exact. You can correct later, in this case for salt.
The first time I learned how to do this it more or less blew my mind. Milk in tomato sauce. Really?! Uh huh. Tomato paste prior to fluids? Yes, but OK, I can understand that, you're making the base. You have to be ready to go, so mise en place, if you will, which is something Elizabeth discovered on her own very quickly.
Paste first. Not too much or it's going to be too sweet, what with the carrots and not quite enough prosciutto and maybe I went a bit crazy with the carrots because they were those tiny little things carved into 'baby' carrot shape (because that's all that was left in the produce aisle at Peter's) but at least I knew what I did. See the browned bottom of the pan? That's going to make a world of difference in the end and it's going to scrape up beautifully a little later on. If it was a burn we'd have pure havoc. Drop the temp now. Seriously. Drop the temp.
Yes, I took these myself with the iPhone one handed and it worked out alright. I also increased the milk to 12 ounces because of the mass. Mix that baby up and then bring the heat back from low to medium low.
In goes the wine. Half a bottle, no more, no less. A note on the wine and I've mentioned this elsewhere more or less just so: if you wouldn't drink it yourself, feed it to your family or the family dog, don't cook with it.
One pound of ground beef. I really had to question myself on this one. When making meat sauce or any other kind of meat based cooking, we sear or brown the meat first, right? Seriously, it's important. But I know that isn't how bolognese starts. I know it. I also didn't feel like going back through this blog to check. So be it. Into the mix it goes, broken up with a wooden spoon until it's lump free and then I feel better about it. I also recall that the sauce is done when the fat comes to the surface so there isn't any browning or searing and pouring off of fat. I stop second guessing myself.
This is the base of a solid bolognese. It is a meat sauce, not a red sauce and diced tomatoes, I'm remembering, are almost an afterthought, or at least it feels that way. Everything you need has already happened. There will be no further seasoning or spice. There is no garlic in this sauce, no bay leaf, no basil, no oregano or anything else that strikes your fancy. This is, for all intent and purposes, done. Except it needs a vehicle other than just the pasta. This is, by the way, where you begin the process of de-glazing the pot. Scraping up all that nicely browned veggie base.
Two large cans of diced tomato. Don't go crazy on the ratio. I know you want to add more. This is NOT spaghetti sauce. No, it's not. If you start to think of it that way, remind yourself about the lack of garlic and the addition of the milk and that the paste is already there and the prosciutto that might also have been pancetta. Just stop yourself. You are going to have to add some water though to keep it from thickening to the point where it can't simmer properly (because it sticks to the bottom and burns) for a couple of hours. Water. Not more wine. And not too much either. Condensation will take care of most of the fluid retention.
Now is the time to adjust the seasoning and by seasoning I mean salt. AND THAT IS ALL. Again, stop yourself. Don't go right over the top because you do need to give the prosciutto a little more time but it's nearly done it's job. Nearly. Scrape the bottom a little more. Most, if not all should have come up by now. Pay no attention to the instant coffee or the jelly. They aren't magic totems. Unless they are...
Now drop the temp to very low, pop on the lid and go away. Come back every once in awhile and give it a stir. On my Bluestar I had to add more water no matter what I did. The induction stove top is MUCH easier to control. I never thought I'd say something like that about a gas range but I just did.
Lucia and I nearly ate ourselves sick. I didn't take any pictures of the final product because by the time it was finished we were beside ourselves. This hasn't happened in so long. It was effortless. It was in my head, my hands and my body. It was painless. Actually, it felt pretty damn good. Other than a brief moment of second guessing myself there wasn't even any 'thinking' going on. Just being, and out of being comes doing and that's a zen sort of place I haven't known lately, at least not in very many places and certainly not in a part of me I thought I'd lost forever, sort of like when you lose your leg to cancer because you have to cut the whole damn thing off to get rid of something that's been wholly insinuated throughout.
Amputations, I think, are sort of like cesareans but that's an entirely other subject, although I guess what I mean to say is that a good many things come back on their own or heal or come in their own time and we are quick to make something up, or diagnose and decide, or take up the knife which is not to say that a piece of glass sticking out of your foot doesn't need to be pulled out.
Anyway, maybe some things were out of order. I don't know. I don't care. All I know for sure is that it was really, really easy (for me) and the result was perfect.