Everyone has that one thing that they can cook amazingly each time; a signature dish that can be recreated without even looking at a recipe.
For me, it’s my bolognese sauce. Over the years, and after watching about a million cooking shows discussing various traditional and new-age techniques, I can say with a lot of confidence that I have taken all of the best methods and come up with a super delicious and relatively easy recipe. I will usually make a huge batch to freeze in portions so I can pull it out whenever a craving hits. My favourite is to serve bolognese sauce over roasted spaghetti squash (as pictured), but it is also so good as a layer in quick lasagna, using fresh lasagna noodles.
Is there any adaptability to this recipe? Well, I’ve cooked it with bison and it was rich and meaty. I’ve cooked with ground turkey and it was OK, not my favourite. And I have never cooked it with the ground tofu … if you try it and it turns out, let me know on Kitchen Confessions Red Deer (my Facebook Page).
My recipe calls for red wine; perfect for any leftover wine you might have sitting around (I can’t relate to this, but people tell me it happens). A word of caution … please don’t buy the cheapest bottle you can find – buy a full bodied wine that you actually would enjoy drinking. You only need a cup and a half so don’t worry, all the boozehounds out there can down the rest of the bottle while the sauce is cooking. Alternately, if cooking with wine is not your thing, a good quality beef stock will substitute just fine.
4 slices thick bacon, chopped fine
1 large white onion
4-5 large cloves garlic
3 large carrots
4 stalks celery, include any of the leaves if they’re still on
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp Italian Seasoning Blend
1 tsp chili flakes (plus more for serving)
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
½ cup milk
1 ½ cup red wine
540 mL can flavoured diced tomatoes (I like the Aylmer’s spicy chili starter)
156 mL can garlic tomato paste
Salt &pepper to taste
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese for serving
In your largest stock pot, cook the bacon over medium heat until caramelized. Careful not to burn. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon bits to a plate lined with paper towel and set aside because they will go back in later. Remove the bacon fat, leaving about 2 tbsp to cover the bottom of the pan.
In your food processor, chop the onion, garlic, celery and carrots until quite fine – you want the veg to almost “disappear” in the sauce. If you don’t have a food processor, chop as finely as you can. Add the chopped veg and the spices to the pan and sauté on medium heat for about five to six minutes or until fragrant. Now add the beef and increase the heat on the burner to medium high. Using a wooden spoon, stir to combine until the beef is browned. Your goal here should be to get that beef crumbled into an almost paste like consistency. Once the beef has been cooked thoroughly, add the milk, red wine, cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Increase the heat slightly and bring to a boil. Once boiling, you can drop the heat to about medium and simmer until most of the liquid you added has been reduced – about 20 minutes, and stirring often.
Once you’re happy with that, add the reserved bacon bits, the diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, drop to low and let simmer covered for at least an hour, checking in on it every 20 to 30 minutes. Taste to see if you have enough salt – everyone’s threshold is different. The longer you simmer this sauce, the deeper the flavour gets. Serve sprinkled with fresh parmesan on baked spaghetti squash, rigatoni (tube shaped) pasta, in lasagna, or plain old spaghetti and you will be a hero.
Shannon Yacyshyn is a Red Deer foodie who can be found on Facebook at Kitchen Confessions Red Deer.