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Shortcut Bolognese Sauce

For years I have made large quantities of meaty bolognese to enjoy on the weekends, and as leftovers during the week. I've spent big bucks on buying pork, veal, and regular ground beef to give that sauce a deep meaty flavor. I've added milk so that the acid would break down the meat fibers before simmering for two and a half hours. I have tried it all, and ate it all, and believe me, enjoyed it all!

The weather is starting to drop into the 80's which in Texas means we are going into Fall. To be honest, I do not need the cooler temperatures to crave or make a rich and hearty pasta meal. I added this dinner to our menu of the week in the hopes I could get it done in an hour. Until I tested this new recipe, I was clueless to some of these genius shortcuts. I found the tips to be beneficial although from start to finish I spent over an hour in the kitchen. Weeknight? I'm not so sure about that, but I am sure this is now the base for my new Bolognese sauce recipe.

To speed up the process, but preserve the richness of a long-cooked version, I pureed pancetta and vegetables in a food processor until it formed a coarse paste. The restaurant chef secret is to brown the paste until crud forms on the bottom of the pan, which we scrape, and then let reform. Anne Burrell taught me this from one of her recipes, and I was completely distraught that I was burning my dinner the entire time. Stick with me here, this technique works.

Keep reading for tips on how to cut another 15 minutes off your cooking time by using Better than Bouillon, a staple in my fridge, along with a bakers secret to keeping your ground beef from tasting dried out.


1 pound 93 percent lean ground beef

2 tablespoons water

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Kosher salt and pepper

4 teaspoons of Better Than Bouillon Roasted Beef Base added to 1.5 cups of water

6 ounces pancetta, chopped coarse

1 onion, chopped coarse

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped coarse

1 celery rib, chopped coarse

3 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup dry red wine

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving

1 pound tagliatelle

Treat meat

To ensure the ground beef retains moisture and doesn't feel dried out, first, sprinkle meat with two tablespoons of water and the baking soda. Break this up with your fingers gently, don't overwork the meat. Set aside.

Puree Veggies

Meanwhile, place the pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in the food processor and pulse until it has a paste-like consistency. You may need to take the lid off and scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times during this process.

Scrape the crud

Heat butter and oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. When foaming subsides, add purred veggies along with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, occasionally stirring, until liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Spread the mixture in an even layer in the bottom of the pot and continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until very dark browned bits form on the bottom of the pan, 7 to 12 minutes longer. Scrape the crud again and add the tomato paste. Brown the tomato paste for 2 to 3 minutes. Lower the heat if things start to burn.

Create sauce

Reduce heat to medium, add beef, and cook, using a wooden spoon to break meat into pieces until meat has just lost its raw pink color, 4 to 7 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot, and bring to a simmer. Cook until wine has evaporated and the sauce has thickened about 5 minutes. Stir in concentrated beef broth and Parmesan.

Return sauce to a simmer; cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and taste for seasoning. I found the pancetta to add plenty of saltiness, and I didn't need to add anything else.

Boil noodles

I read a Facebook post recently where a young mom said she just discovered why her spaghetti always tastes horrible; she didn't know that she needed to wait for the water to boil before adding the dried noodles.

My tips for perfectly boiled noodles are to bring a LOT of salty water to boil - I mean four quarts of water for a pound of dried pasta. I have been asked, "How much salt should I add to my pasta water?" My answer is, "It depends, do you want your pasta to be delicious? If so, then kind of a lot, to be perfectly honest."

Seasoning food properly is the thing that separates good food from great food. The point is not to make something salty, but to add enough salt to make an ingredient shine. Dried pasta is usually made with just flour and water, meaning it doesn't have much flavor on its own. Cooking the pasta in salty water enhances the flavor from the inside out.

Add a tablespoon of Kosher salt (not table salt) to four quarts of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add pasta and cook until it is al dente. That’s slightly undercooked pasta, about two minutes from being that chewy al dente we love.

Reserve some water

One of the best tips ever is to reserve a cup of cooking water before draining the pasta. You just never know after you toss the pasta with the sauce if it is going to need thinning. Pasta water is the best thing to add at this point.

Add pasta to pot with sauce and toss to combine (this is why it is okay to undercook your pasta by a tad). Adjust sauce consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Transfer to a large platter or individual bowls and serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.

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