Whenever we go out for Italian food John is quick to get any bolognese dish that might be on the menu. He’s a good Italian like that. If you’re not familiar, bolognese sauce is traditionally a meat-based tomato sauce. Any good bolognese will be obviously full of tomato goodness but the meat is the real star here. Delicately ground, browned, and crumbled into the sauce, the meat of a bolognese delivers the majority of the flavor. It’s no wonder John loves restaurant-made, they have the time to just let it simmer all day. However, I’ve been dabbling in bolognese (I’m Italian now by proxy!) and think I’ve come up with a pretty good homemade version. Irish ladies, take note!
Domestocrat’s Best Bolognese
3 onions, chopped
2 tbsp. EVOO
3 lbs. ground pork
1 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. ground pepper
1 small can (6 oz.) tomato paste
2 cans (15 oz.) tomato sauce
1 large can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
1 large can (28 oz.) tomato puree
2 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. red pepper flake
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced fine
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced fine
2 tbsp. fresh oregano, minced fine
1 tbsp. dried Italian herbs
Start by sauteeing the onions and EVOO in a big sauce pot over medium heat. The reason for sauteeing the onions first is that it starts off the sauce with a great flavor base. Raw onions do nothing in terms of flavor, they would just wilt and release water into the sauce. However, sauteed/caramelized onions have developed delicious flavor as they’ve browned, and can add a lot more depth to the sauce (and any dish really, I love caramelized onions). When the onions have lightly browned, it’s time to move on to the next step.
Next, add the ground pork right to your sauce pot. A word here – find a good local butcher and go there. Often times meat at the grocery store is overpriced, sits on the shelf too long, and is simply a less quality product than what you’ll find at a butcher. A butcher can tell you which meats are freshest, they have better deals, and will even process the meat (grind, tie, filet, etc.) for you right there. That way, you have the freshest ingredients – it’s so worth it.
Cook the meat over medium heat with the onions, breaking it up with a big spoon as it cooks. It will take about 10 minutes for all of it to cook. When all of the pork has cooked there will be some excess water in the pot. It’s tricky but drain off as much as you can. I was able to get about a cup or so drained from mine.
Now it’s time to contemplate the tomato portion of this sauce. You can buy sauce in a jar any day of the week, many are yummy and it’s an easy option. However, if you have the time, making your own will be better than a jar of sauce every time. I’m Italian now by marriage so I’m not allowed to buy jarred sauce (joking!).
The combination of multiple kinds of tomatoes is essential. Each bring a little something different. Tomato paste will thicken the sauce and has a very concentrated flavor, tomato sauce has a very basic flavor but will make the sauce smooth, crushed tomatoes add volume and flavor, and tomato puree adds body and flavor.
Add all of the sauce to the sauce pot, cover with a lid, and let it simmer on low heat for 1 hour (stirring occasionally). This first hour with the lid on will allow all of the tomato components to come together without reducing the sauce.
After an hour add the garlic, fresh herbs, and dry herbs. Fresh herbs brighten and scent the sauce, and the dry herbs add a more concentrated layer of herb flavor.
At this point leave the lid off and simmer for as long as you can – up to 3 hours but no less than 1 hour. Stir and taste for seasoning often. Adjust for salt, pepper, and spiciness as you like.
After the final simmer this sauce is ready for anything! I ended up making lasagna with it (recipe coming soon) but my other favorite applications include mixing this sauce into a huge bowl of linguine, on the side of a veggie panini for dunking, on pizza, and chicken parmesan. This sauce will keep in a tight tupperware container or Mason jar in the fridge for about a week and in the freezer for about 3-4 months. Enjoy!