You can, of course, buy spaghetti sauce in a jar. I think you can even buy sauce that says it is “Bolognese.” But. its. not.. That sauce is to homemade Bolognese as a polyester uniform top is to a silk kimono. (If you’ve never worn a polyester uniform top, you are a lucky, lucky human being).
Bolognese is a sauce that is rich, not terribly tomato-y, full of very tender meat, and delicious on pasta (taglietella is best), polenta, or soaked up with chunks of bread. If you make a lot, you can freeze it and have something amazing to pull out of your freezer if you are troubled by spiritual dis-ease or unexpected dinner guests. It is somewhat labor intensive, and must cook for a long time over low heat to reach the velvety texture that is its hallmark. That means you have to stay home for at least the four hours it takes to prep the ingredients and let it simmer. On the other hand, its just really, really delicious and you’ll just have to trust me until you make some yourself.
I have always used Marcella Hazan’s recipe, until today. Next time, I will be using Marcella Hazan’s recipe.
Today, I tried a recipe from “Cook’s Country” magazine, which is edited by Christopher Kimball of “Cook’s Illustrated,” and is usually pretty impeccable. The premise was that Bolognese takes too long to make, and that cooking time could be shortened by making use of an uncovered Crockpot on high heat for the simmering. Basically, the sauce is made the “normal” way and then transferred to the slow cooker to simmer for 6-7 hours. The sauce should reduce, thicken and intensify in flavor during the hours of simmering, regardless of method. Theoretically, if this worked, one could actually leave the house during simmering.
I followed the directions meticulously, which in itself was bizarre. Usually I play with recipes, but since the changes in this method seemed to involve actual science as opposed to ingredients and flavors, I thought I’d better toe the line. At noon I had the sauce simmering in the crockpot. Six hours later I had some very liquid-y sauce under a layer of clear liquid simmering in the crock pot. Seven hours later there was a barely perceptible change in the level of the liquid, but it was still essentially meat soup with slime on top. Eight hours later I spooned it all back into a real pot, put it on the real stove. cranked it up for half an hour, reduced it, and served it over spaghetti. It was quite tasty, but Good Lord I could have lived without transferring 12 cups of hot, red liquid twice in one day (net loss: one apron and one pink cardigan), and it wasn’t even slightly better than what I usually make. I don’t know if the failure to cook properly has to do with the properties of my slow cooker, but this experience reaffirms my deep-seated belief that I am not crockpot-friendly.
I would link to the recipe on the “Cook’s Country” website, but a) I don’t think you should make it because I don’t like it, and b) you aren’t allowed to see the recipe unless you’re a subscriber. If you really want to, you can find it by doing a clever Google search – I did. If you want to try your hand at homemade Bolognese, pick a day when you can be around the house for a while, and make Marcella Hazan’s recipe. Don’t make me tell you again.