A weird thing about being a food photographer is that I’m practically a slave to the pretty light, which means I wake up with the sun and start cooking Spaghetti Bolognese at 7:00 am and taking photos. To me it’s the only time the light is just right for photos. I live a weird and good life! Spaghetti for breakfast, followed by bagels and then sometimes just leftovers for dinner. My meals are always a little scattered and backwards.
My dad used to manage an Italian family restaurant, and he has all their secret recipes. When I told him I was making bolognese this weekend, he said that they used to use veal, pork, and chicken in theirs with a mirepoix to start. I like to think of Bolognese Sauce as a simple and homely meat sauce, but with little complexities that make you wonder what’s in it. True bolognese always starts with a good mix of carrots, celery, and onion (a mirepoix). This may sound a little odd, but all those delicious vegetables melt away and provide added flavor to the sauce. Then instead of pork, I used bacon or you can use pancetta. Plus good, high quality, lean ground beef. This is important for flavor, so don’t use chuck or something too fatty.
Let’s get started on this recipe!
Let’s talk about the mirepoix first. I used shallots for a little extra flavor, and carrots and celery. Make sure you dice these pretty small so they melt into the sauce. As every good dish begins, add a little olive oil to a hot pan and saute your vegetables between medium and medium high heat until they begin to soften. Then add your bacon pieces and let them brown, stirring frequently.
After the bacon is browned, add the oregano, thyme, and basil along with the beef. Chop up the beef into the sauce until it’s well incorporated. Then keep stirring until no pink parts remain. To the pan, add your wine and let it reduce until no liquid remains.
Add your crushed tomatoes, water, and salt. Bring the sauce to a boil and once it bubbles, turn down to low and simmer covered for 20 minutes. Then remove the lid and let it simmer uncovered for 40 minutes.
I like to taste it for salt periodically. Add a little if you think you need it. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, bring your pasta to a boil and cook to al dente. You want it to have a bite. My favorite noodles for this are spaghetti or rigatoni. Both are great vehicles for a meaty sauce.
If your pasta is cooked too early, when you drain it in the colander, immediately cover it with a dish towel to keep it from drying out and getting sticky. See the full recipe below!
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 1 celery salt, diced
- 3 shallots, peeled and diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, chopped
- 4 slices bacon, diced
- ½ tsp dried basil
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ cup good red wine
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ½ tsp salt plus more for seasoning
- ½ cup water
- 1 lb pasta
- In a large, deep skillet, add the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, shallots, and garlic, stirring frequently until vegetables begin to soften, 5-7 minutes.
- Add the bacon, oregano, basil, and thyme and cook until the bacon is cooked through and slightly browned, about 5 minutes more. Add the beef and chop it up into the mixture, stirring frequently, letting it brown until no pink remains.
- Add the red wine and let it reduce until all the liquid is absorbed for a minute or so.
- Add the salt, tomatoes and water and stir until everything is combined. Turn the sauce to high, let it start to bubble, then turn the heat to low and let it simmer on low with the lid on for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and let it simmer another 40 minutes. Taste for more salt and add if needed. During the last 20 minutes of cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta to al dente and serve with the sauce.