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Cook the Book: Bolognese Sauce

Bolognese is my favorite sauce for pasta, and from fall until spring I'll always have a batch on hand. It's an all day project that involves lots of chopping, browning, and slow simmering, but it's one that I enjoy immensely. When I decided to make this bolognese from New Classic Family Dinners by Mark Peel I was under the impression that I would be spending all day in the kitchen, but this version of bolognese is another story.

I must confess that I didn't really read through all of the instructions before setting out to make this beast of a sauce. Once I had all of my ingredients assembled I sat down at the kitchen table and read the recipe. It was then that I realized that this wasn't any ordinary Bolognese—this was the three day Bolognese. That's quite an investment of time for a pasta sauce, but my interest was piqued, and I had the whole weekend ahead of me.

I chopped all of the vegetables, cubed the brisket, doused the whole thing with plenty of red wine, and stuck it in the fridge to marinate overnight. The next day marked the beginning of the tedious tasks that go into making this incredible bolognese. First, I had to pick out every last piece of brisket, drain and reserve the red wine, and painstakingly dry off the vegetables. Then I separated the canned tomatoes from their purée and put the tomatoes in the oven to roast, reduce, and bring out their flavors. After searing the meat in several batches, I removed it from the pan and added pancetta and the vegetables from the marinade. Once the vegetables were softened, the meat went back in with the roasted tomatoes. The whole mixture was left to simmer for two hours.

You might be thinking that this is the end of the story, but there's more, so much more.

After two hours of simmering, the meat had to once again be taken out of the sauce. To do this, I devised a system that involved a wire-mesh spider and a pair of tongs. It took a while, but it got the job done. At this point you can either cool the meat and sauce overnight, or go ahead and shred the brisket by hand. Impatience got the best of me and I opted for (somewhat) instant gratification: I shredded the meat into tiny pieces and moved on to the next step of the recipe. The tomato sauce, now dark red and enriched with all sorts of meat and vegetable juices, was put through a food mill, and placed back on the stove with the shredded brisket. This was one of those times that I dearly wished I had a food processor and not just a hand-cranked food mill.

The sauce looked and tasted pretty great at this point. I was more than tempted to forgo the last portion of the recipe, but my personal integrity made me soldier on. I sautéed 1/4-inch diced carrots, onions, and celery and added them back into the sauce along with a bouquet garni, then simmered the sauce for another hour.

The sun had set long before the sauce was finished and it was too late to serve it for dinner. I sampled a few spoonfuls before I packed it away into the refrigerator. It was like no other sauce that I had made before. The shreds of beef melted into the rich tomato sauce and the flavor can only be described as boeuf bourguignon meets bolognese. The caramelized beef and vegetables were apparent and it had a depth of flavor that none of the other versions of this sauce had managed to reach.

So, was all of the time worth it? Yes, especially because although the recipe claims that it makes three cups, my version left me with more than double that. I'll be eating this three day bolognese for a long time.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of New Classic Family Dinners to give away this week.

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