I knew the very first thing I wanted to make when I had my own kitchen (20 odd years ago) was tomato sauce. But, which one? No big deal, right? Wrong. Everyone I grew up with who cooked made a tomato sauce and every single one of them was different.
Differences like using meat or not, spices, types of tomatoes, length of cooking time and well, you get the picture. They were all good, but the one I kept craving was a type of bolognese. A rich, velvety sauce with a great depth of flavor. The kind of sauce I could be happy scooping from the pot with torn pieces of crusty bread. Aaaaahhh, pure heaven. I knew somewhere in my vast archives and piles, b.p.c. (b.p.c.: before personal computers), I had somebody’s grandmother’s recipe for that tomato sauce.
I’ve scaled the recipe down from the original that made over 4 gallons. Yes, the first time I made it, in my tiny kitchen apartment, I followed the recipe to the letter. I somehow knew enough to use a huge stockpot and it was filled right to the brim. I was not at all prepared to deal with the amount the recipe produced and proceeded to keep only what I could deal with (basically what I could scoop from the pot with crusty bread) and give the rest away. But oh that sauce, that heaven.
Which brings me to Scott Conant, one of the high-profile chef-judges of Food Network’s “Chopped”, referred to as the “Mediterranean Maestro” and “Gastronomic Guru” by the show’s dazzled host Ted Allen . Scott, are you listening? I guarantee if you were tearing pieces of crusty bread and scooping out this sauce from the pot, you would close your eyes and smile. Well, at any rate, I do every single time.
Somebody’s Grandmother’s Bolognese Sauce
Make sure you have empty containers and a loaf of crusty bread ready!
Makes 1 1/2 gallons
- 1/4 Cup olive oil
- 1 lb. ground beef
- Salt & Pepper (small palmful each to season the beef)
- 3 heaping Tbsp. dried parsley
- 1 whole clove
- 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp. dried italian seasoning (traditionally a blend of basil, marjoram, oregano and sage. If using this, the sauce can definitely handle the additional hit of basil, but don’t rush out to buy it if you already own these individually. I would add 1/2 tsp of each.)
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp. dried basil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 9 oz can tomato paste
- 4 29 oz. cans tomato sauce (I prefer Tuttorosso, but any brand will do)
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat and add the meat, onion and garlic. I usually add the onions and garlic after the meat to prevent them from burning and give them a chance to release their flavors in the meat. Add the salt and pepper, mix together and cook for a few minutes to sweat the onions and garlic. Add all the spices (up to the white wine) and mix. Once the meat starts to cook through and lose its “pink”, turn the heat up to high and add the wine. Stir while it’s simmering briskly to cook off the alchohol and incorporate the flavors with the meat (about 5 minutes max). Add the tomato paste and one can of water. Don’t rinse the can first – you can get whatever paste is left with the water. Mix together and add the cans of tomato sauce. Stir and let simmer slowly for at least an hour. Add the brown sugar at any time after the sauce begins to simmer.
Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with your favorite pasta, torn pieces of wonderfully crusty bread (of course) and a liberal sprinkling of parmigiano reggiano (or other grating cheese: parmesan, locatelli, etc.). This recipe freezes well and is very much appreciated when given to deserving friends/relatives.
Note: This very fun and flexible recipe produces a large (1 1/2 gallons) quantity of sauce and can definitely handle an increase of any or all of the ingredients.