Every few months, I’ve been making a big pot of bolognese sauce. It freezes really well, and I put it in little single serving containers that my wife takes to eat at work. It does take a very long while to cook — on the order of 6 or 7 hours, total, but it doesn’t really need to be attended to all that much. One of the keys is to use some sort of heat tempering device. Without one, even my heavy Le Cruset dutch oven will get hotspots and the sauce will burn onto the bottom. What I do, just before I add the tomatoes is to put the whole pot into my biggest cast iron frying pan. This will temper the hot spots and transfer the heat more evenly to the bottom of my cooking pan. I’ve never had my sauce burn, even with the long, unattended simmering this recipe calls for.
First of all, you need a mix of meats. Most grocery stores will sell “meatloaf mix.” This is one-third ground beef, one-third ground pork, and one-third ground veal. This is the perfect proportion for classic bolognese. The amounts of the rest of the ingredients are dictated by the quantity of the meatloaf mix that you start with. Here are the basic proportions, and you can scale up depending on the quantity of meat.
3 T unsalted butter
2 T minced onion
2 T minced carrot
2 T minced celery
¾ lb meatloaf mix or ¼ pound each ground beef chuck, ground veal, and ground pork
1 c whole milk
1 c dry white wine
1 can (28 ounce) whole tomatoes, packed in juice, chopped fine, with juice reserved
Put all of the vegetables in the food processor, probably in batches, since after this long, long simmer, they’re all going to break down into unidentifiable goodness anyway. Put these in your dutch oven with the butter and salt, and cook it until you get rid of some of the excess moisture from the onions, but you don’t really want to brown any of it.
Next, put in the meats, and break it all up with the back of a wooden spoon. Brown it off as much as you’re willing to. It’s not crucial to brown the meat, and if you’re working with the quantity of meat you’re likely to get from the store (upwards of 3 pounds), it’s going to be pretty difficult anyway. Just work at getting the meat into smaller and smaller chucks.
Now add the milk. It’s important that it’s whole milk, because part of the richness of this dish involves the milk fat, and it’s crucial. Simmer this mixture, stirring frequently, until all of the milk evaporates. You’ll know you’re ready to move on when you only see clear liquid in the pan when you stir the meat. It’ll probably take at least 30 minutes over medium heat.
Now do the same with the wine. Keep simmering, stirring frequently, until the wine has evaporated. (You can use red wine instead of white if that’s all you’ve got.)
While the sauce is simmering, run the tomatoes in the food processor, or through a food mill, and then add it all, along with the juice, to the sauce.
Now let it simmer, forever. Like 4 or 5 hours over low heat. You want it to bubble slowly. Stir it occasionally.
Serve this sauce sparingly over fresh pasta, or as a base for lasagna. It’ll last a week in a tightly covered container in the fridge, or for 6 months in the freezer.