Bolognese Sauce (with vegan option)
B: (It’s served over pasta! )
None of it is any good. It’s almost always overcooked spaghetti with watered down tomato sauce containing no seasoning and served as the main dish.
So I got a request last month to have lasagne for new year — a first in my home. I took the Japanese way: I chose to silently rebel.
I went online and researched Bologonaise to learn how to make a bold and flavorful sauce with what I have to work with. I refused to make lasagne in the American way, with layers of melty cheeses. Instead I bought a large wedge of Parmigano Riggliano to do it the Italian way, with a flavorful white sauce. So on December 31st, with the TV on in the background, I spent a full day over two burners in order to pull a lasagne from the oven before midnight — and it was delicious.
The red wine in the sauce and the layering of flavours from slow cooking made the dish complex and flavourful. A couple of weeks later I was ready for more, made the vegetarian version, and played with presentation.
Here are both recipes.
- 1 head of celery, leaves and tops removed, white trimmed
- 8 to 10 onions
- 4 to 6 large carrots
- 2 or 3 tins tomato paste
- Garlic cloves to your taste
- 4 tins of tomato OR 4 cups fresh Marinara Sauce
- White wine (1/2 to 1 cup)
- Red wine (2 cups to a full bottle)
- Good olive oil
- Ground pork (up to 500 grams)
- Ground beef (up to 500 grams)
- Italian sausage (up to 250 grams — contains a lot of fat and spices, correct your seasonings if using)
- Bacon, several thick strips
- Herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, marjoram (to taste)
- Salt, pepper
- White leek
- Orange peel
- Mushrooms, esp shiitake
- Veg soy balls or vital wheat gluten
- Bay leaf
Chop the onions, celery, carrots, shallots, leeks, bacon into roughly the same size and fry in a very large stockpot with a generous amount of flavourful olive oil. The oil is to prevent the initial sticking and for flavour. If you use flavourless oil like canola, then use just enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
Do not use cookware with a non-stick surface. The bits which stick to the pan add flavor. It took 90 minutes before this began to stick. When it does, scrape it off with a wooden spoon or spatula back into the vegetables. When you can no longer scrape it off, add white wine to melt those brown bits back into the vegetables. (If you’re making a vegetarian version and not using wine, use a salt free broth or mushroom juice to impart flavor.)
To the deglazed vegetables add tomato paste and reduce until it starts to stick to the bottom again — you build flavours this way — then add your meat and cook just until the pink goes away; then add your Marinara Sauce, or canned tomatoes, garlic, and optional seasonings.
If your making the vegetarian version add your Marinara Sauce after the tomato paste starts to stick to the pan, or add canned tomatoes, garlic, and seasonings.
If you’re using meat, the sauce will no longer stick to the bottom of the pan. Either way, you want to reduce the liquid to take the edge off and blend the flavours from the herbs and spices you’ve added — taste constantly. When you’re satisfied with the flavour profile add the red wine, turn it on low, and reduce to the consistency you need for your dish — then add salt***. Keep tasting. If you’re making the vegetarian version add the soy or gluten proteins now then correct for the consistency you want.
The dish needs time. There are many, many, many quick versions of Bolognese, but only a careful browning of the vegetables, deglazing with white wine, reducing with tomato paste and the flavor of good red wine will produce the “Wow!” of Italian cuisine. From start to finish this sauce took about four hours.
The sauce improves with time and excellent with other types of pasta, especially spaghetti.
*** Note about salt: In my cooking I add salt near the end so to allow all the other flavours to develop first. From my point of view salt is the accent, not the main seasoning.