There’s nothing like grim weather and Seasonal Affective Disorder to strip you of your tolerance for ostentation. February is the time of year when the rustic prevails, when warm and honest food, like this recipe, really comes into its own.
One caveat: this isn’t your typical Bolognese, though it might be the most classical one you’ve ever made. (Caveat #2: spaghetti may be traditional, but I prefer slightly thicker linguine, which stands up better to hearty sauces.)
The woman behind this timeless recipe is the late grande dame of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, who had very strong feelings about how to make Bolognese properly. For instance: do not even think about putting garlic in this Bolognese. Bacon is not needed, rosemary is not invited. And though you might assume red wine would be best in the sauce (it’s best alongside – more on that in a bit), if Marcella says white, you use white.
This Bolognese has no shortcuts: if you want yours to taste like it was made by an Italian nonna, you need to cook like one. This is simmer-all-day sauce, the perfect Sunday project, a study in the art of patience, a fragrant rebuttal to instant-gratification. You’ll need a solid seven hours to make it; in an ideal world, you might even refrigerate it overnight and eat it the next day to allow its flavours to deepen further (this is recommended, though not required).
When it finally comes time to eat, it’s wise to go with a wine that’s similarly humble and enriching. I Vini di Giovanni’s Rozzo – made by an actual Umbrian shepherd named Giovanni Mesina – certainly qualifies. Made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, absent any added sulphur, it is pungently barnyardy when first poured, but after decanting and swirling, notes of cherry and a mellow fruitfulness come to the fore. Its tannins are serious and grippy, which makes it a wine that especially benefits from the companionship of some pasta.
Together, they won’t banish your SAD, but the act of stirring sauce for the better part of the day still has a way of making the world feel less dire.
Very slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
45g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
350g (¾ lb) beef mince (ground beef), preferably 15-20% fat
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
235ml (1 US cup) whole milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
235ml (1 US cup) dry white wine
1 400g (14oz) can whole Italian plum tomatoes in juice
500g (1.1 lbs) linguine, spaghetti, or similar pasta
1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, add the vegetable oil, butter and onion, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the onion gently for roughly 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is softened and translucent.
2. Add the carrot and celery, and stir to coat. Cook for roughly 3-4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the beef mince and sprinkle over a large pinch of sea salt and several good grinds of black pepper. Using a fork, delicately break up the meat and toss until it is finely crumbled. Cook until it has just lost its raw colour, but not until it is darkened and dried out.
3. Pour in the milk and grate in the nutmeg. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk is fully evaporated – this process can take up to an hour. (Don’t be tempted to raise the heat and boil it off faster; slow cooking makes the meat incredibly tender.)
4. Next, add in the white wine and repeat the same process, slow cooking over medium- low heat until completely evaporated.
5. While the beef mixture is simmering, prep the tomatoes: remove the whole plum tomatoes from the can, reserving the juice, and roughly chop. When the wine is fully evaporated, add both the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and stir to combine.
6. Turn the heat to low. Cook for a minimum of 3 and up to 5 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and rich. To prevent it from drying out or burning during the cooking process, add water at 125ml (1/2-cup) intervals, if needed. Season to taste, generously, with salt and pepper.
7. When you’re nearly ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot. Add the Bolognese sauce and toss lightly to combine.
8. Divide the linguine Bolognese between plates or bowls, and top generously with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.