Pasta with Classic Bolognese Sauce

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: A good Bolognese sauce should be thick and smooth with rich, complex flavor. The meat should be first and foremost, but there should be sweet, salty, and acidic flavors in the background. To get this complexity, we built our Bolognese in layers, starting with just onion, carrot, and celery, sautéed in butter. Then we added meatloaf mix (a combination of ground beef, veal, and pork). For dairy, we used milk, which complemented the meat flavor without adding too much richness. Once the milk was reduced, we added white wine to the pot for a more robust sauce, followed by chopped whole canned tomatoes. A long, slow simmer produced a luxuriously rich sauce with layers of flavor and tender meat. If you would like to double this recipe, increase the simmering times for the milk and the wine to 30 minutes each, and the simmering time to 4 hours once the tomatoes are added. Just about any pasta shape complements this meaty sauce, but fettuccine and linguine are the test kitchen favorites.

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SERVES 4 TO 6
TOTAL TIME 4 HOURS

If you can’t find meatloaf mix, use 6 ounces (85 percent lean) ground beef and 6 ounces ground pork.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced carrot
2 tablespoons minced celery
12 ounces meatloaf mix

Salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28‑ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, tomatoes chopped fine
1 pound fettuccine or linguine
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in meatloaf mix and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.

2. Stir in milk, bring to simmer, and cook until milk evaporates and only rendered fat remains, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in wine, bring to simmer, and cook until wine evaporates, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Stir in tomatoes and reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low so that sauce continues to simmer just barely, with occasional bubble or two at surface, until liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours. Season with salt to taste. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 1 month.)

4. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add sauce and remaining 2 tablespoons butter and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency. Serve with Parmesan.

LEARN HOW: Pasta with Classic Bolognese Sauce

A rich and silky Bolognese sauce is the king of pasta sauces. Making one with complex flavors takes some time, but most of it is hands-off. Technique and time are important to success here, so don’t be tempted to take shortcuts to speed up the process.

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1. SAUTÉ THE AROMATICS IN BUTTER: Melt 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in a Dutch oven and cook the finely chopped onion and minced carrot and celery until softened.

WHY? Sautéing the aromatics is the first step in developing layers of flavor for this sauce. Cooking them in butter rather than oil adds rich flavor.

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2. ADD THE MEATLOAF MIX: Stir in 12 ounces meatloaf mix and salt and cook, breaking up the meat until it is no longer pink, about 3 minutes.

WHY? A combination of ground beef, veal, and pork makes this sauce especially complex; the veal adds delicacy while the pork makes it sweet.

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3. STIR IN THE MILK AND SIMMER: Add 1 cup whole milk and simmer until it evaporates and only the rendered fat remains, about 10 minutes.

WHY? Adding whole milk provides just enough dairy flavor to complement the meat, and adding it ahead of the wine is best because the meat is more tender and can absorb it better.

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4. STIR IN THE WINE AND SIMMER: Add 1 cup dry white wine and simmer until it evaporates, about 10 minutes.

WHY? The acidity of the wine balances the richness of the meat and adds further depth to the sauce.

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5. ADD THE TOMATOES AND COOK 3 HOURS: Drain 1 can of whole tomatoes, then chop the tomatoes and add them and the reserved juice to the pot. Simmer the mixture over low heat until the liquid has evaporated, about 3 hours.

WHY? Canned whole tomatoes taste far better in this sauce than crushed and have the added benefit of the tomato liquid, which helps keep the sauce from scorching. The long simmering time tenderizes the meat and builds flavor.

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6. FINISH WITH BUTTER AND PASTA COOKING WATER: Add 2 tablespoons butter to the cooked pasta along with the sauce, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add pasta cooking water as needed to adjust the consistency.

WHY? At the end of the cooking time we enrich the sauce by swirling in a couple tablespoons of butter. The starchy pasta water makes it easy to adjust the consistency of the sauce so it combines perfectly with the pasta.

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