An Easier Bolognese Sauce
This is the pared down version of my classic Bolognese ragú. No fancy ingredients or wine–just meat, soffritto, tomatoes, broth and milk–but the sauce is just as rich and comforting as the original.
The spaghetti sauce of my childhood was of the Filipino kind. You know, the sweet sauce with hotdog slices thrown in. What? You’ve never heard of this, you say? Just check Google.
It wasn’t bad, really. Or rather, my mother’s version just happened to be genuinely good. There’s a place for this sweet spaghetti (as we simply call it) in every Filipino kid’s heart. I’ve heard that there are some Filipino parents who secretly enjoy kids’ birthday parties because they can expect sweet spaghetti on the menu.
My mom omitted the hotdogs and didn’t pile on the sugar–her sauce was naturally sweetened by time on the stove. My sisters and I loved her spaghetti but by the time I learned to cook in my own kitchen, I had developed a strong desire to learn more about and prepare authentic Italian food so my first version of Italian meat sauce came about as a result of splicing as many versions as I could until my own Ragú alla Bolognese was born.
Once I was happy with my recipe I didn’t make any changes for years. It was meaty and rich with three types of meat and with dried porcini mushrooms which I ordered by the big pouches just for my ragú.
But one day about four years ago a new ragú came into the picture after a serious craving for spaghetti with meat sauce hit me and I couldn’t be bothered with a few hours of cooking time and dealing with rehydrating and chopping dried porcini mushrooms (not that it’s such a chore, mind you).
This version of Bolognese sauce happened instead and I’ve been using it for years. It is a pared down version of my original with only two kinds of meat instead of three, it has no special ingredients like dried mushrooms that you would have to run to a specialty store for if you live in a small town, no wine and it takes under two hours to prepare.
I had considered titling this post “My Lazy Bolognese Ragú” since that was what inspired this easier sauce but I was afraid that the ragú police might come after me.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘lazy’ Bolognese sauce!”
I certainly don’t want to offend them for I fully embrace adhering to the Bolognese ragú rules and this still has the heart of the original.
I might get a demerit for my choice of pasta since traditionally one should use tagliatelle pasta (and never spaghetti) but I assure you this would still win an Italian nonna’s approval. I didn’t compromise on using the soffritto, milk and even though I don’t use San Marzano tomatoes for this version, the tomato component remains a supporting character behind the meat, as rules dictate.
But for me, for this particular sauce, it’s less about earning the approval of some stewards of a particular dish, though that’s always nice. I’m happier that this version I’ve been preparing for a few years now instantly takes me back to my mom’s spaghetti for its no-frills simplicity. My taste buds don’t lie and it turns out that my mom’s version of spaghetti sauce has always been close to an authentic ragú alla Bolognese after all. I’m glad that this one pays homage to both the spaghetti of my childhood and the ragú I’ve grown to love as an adult.
This is the pared down version of my classic Bolognese ragú. It has no fancy ingredients or wine but it's just as rich, satisfying and authentic as the original.
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 3 stalks celery, finely diced
- 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
- 2 15 ounce cans tomato sauce
- 1 15 ounce can beef broth
- 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup milk
- garlic powder, few dashes
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- olive oil
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)(See Note)
In a large pot drizzle two to three tablespoons olive oil and heat to medium. Add the onion and cook for one or two minutes until they begin to sweat. Add the celery and carrot and a pinch or two of kosher salt and ground pepper. Cook for about five minutes.
Add the ground beef and ground pork, making sure to break apart the clumps with a wooden spoon. Turn up the heat to medium high but make sure not to burn the vegetables. Season with another pinch of salt and add about 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Cook for ten to fifteen minutes, until the fat from the meat has begun to render and you start to see caramelization on the bottom of the pan.
Add the fish sauce (if using) and the tomato paste and stir into the meat and cook for about three minutes.
Add the beef broth and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 45 minutes to one hour. Stir in the milk 30 minutes into the simmer time. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Serve with your favorite pasta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. This is enough for two pounds of pasta so if you won't use all of it I recommend freezing a half batch for later use.
Fish Sauce: while not necessary here a little splash adds depth and counters the acidity of the tomatoes and lends a long-simmered quality to the sauce.