Right around the time I thought it might be totally out of season to make Bolognese again, it decided to snow in Colorado. In the interest of full disclosure, it didn’t actually snow at my house, but it was cold for a few days and it did snow about 30 minutes away from where I live and up in the mountains with some ski areas getting as much as 16 inches of snow. Yep, at the very end of April!
That to say that what I cook depends on more than the season and what I find at the market, it depends on the temperature outside. And while I allow the temperature to tell me what to make, with this recipe I might have to make an exception and have a soul-warming bowl of Bolognese on a sweltering August afternoon because it is that good.
That good that when recently confronted with the question what is your favorite recipe, I had no other thought but the Chez Panisse Bolognese. It is actually beyond good- I am borderline delirious just thinking about a bite of it. And Lulu loves it too- really really loves it- so it is a total winner.
You may imagine a red sauce drenching some overcooked ground beef with some old school dried oregano flavoring the whole thing. That could not be farther from this recipe. It turns out that a traditional Bolognese sauce actually has a very small amount of tomato. And the main characteristic of such a traditional sauce is its velvety rich texture. Those things, plus the list of ingredients make the Chez Panisse Cafe Bolognese a very traditional recipe. The recipe below is adapted and tweaked.
Ingredients: 1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms; 4 oz pancetta, diced; 1 yellow onion, diced fine; 4 ribs celery, diced fine; 1 carrot, diced fine; 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine; 1 ¾ lbs skirt steak cut into 1/4 inch cubes; 1 cup dry white wine; 2 bay leaves; 2 springs of thyme; 1 ½ cups beef stock; 1 ¼ cup milk; 3 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste; olive oil; kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Plus, one cup porcini liquid – you’ll see what I mean below- no need to buy it.
For garnish: ¼ cup flat leaf Italian parsley; freshly grated Parmigianino-Reggiano cheese; fresh ground pepper.
[Side note on a few ingredients
Dried porcini mushrooms are found in specialty stores as well as larger food retailers like Whole Foods. Try to find the bulk version because it is cheaper and because it allows you to buy exactly how much you want. The price difference is significant- for .5 oz - $4.99 for the pre-packaged and $1.43 if bought in bulk.
The best way to do the pancetta is to get a nice slice of pancetta from your specialty deli counter. We got it from here but delis, butchers, and a lot of food specialty places, large ones like Whole Foods included have it. The pre-sliced and pre-packaged is just not the same.
If you are really lucky and have access to green garlic, use it to substitute the cloves!]
Prepare the porcini mushrooms by soaking them in boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the water and reserve the liquid. Chop the porcinis fine.
Heat a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat and pour in 2 tbs olive oil. Add the pancetta.
When the pancetta released some of its fat, add the vegetables – onion, celery, carrot- and allow to soften slightly about 3-4 minutes Add the garlic and porcinis an cook until the vegetables are soft. Turn the heat off on this pan, for now.
In a separate pan, heat 2 tbs olive oil on medium-high heat. When the oil gets hot, add the skirt steak and a little salt and brown the meat for about 15 minutes with the pan covered.
Turn the heat to medium and add the vegetables, wine, porcini liquid, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a simmer then adjust the heat to maintain a really low simmer. Let the sauce simmer until the liquid evaporates and the contents begin to brown.
Deglaze the browned pan and contents with one cup stock and a few tablespoons of milk.
Add the tomato paste and stir well to incorporate both the tomato paste and the milk. Make sure you scrape any brown bits that might have gotten stuck to the bottom of the pan. Continue to simmer the sauce an every now and then add a few tablespoons of stock and a few of milk. Allow the liquid to evaporate somewhat before you add more- the goal is a creamy velvety sauce not a soupy one.
When you have about ½ cup stock and milk combined, allow the sauce to reduce and the liquid to evaporate enough until it begins to brown. This will give your sauce a deeper color and more intense flavor. Deglaze with the rest of the stock and milk. Scrape and stir.
The sauce is done when the meat is very tender and the texture is silky and rich, probably somewhere close to tow hours but don’t be afraid to cook it longer if needed.
Rain or shine, serve it over home-made pasta, garnished with fresh chopped Italian parsley, Parmesan, and fresh ground pepper.