It’s Meat Gravy: A No-Nonsense Bolognese Sauce

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It’s meat gravy.

That was Andy Baraghani’s summary of his new recipe for BA’s best bolognese. Poetic, right? Andy wanted to develop the simplest version of classic bolognese that delivers exactly what it’s supposed to without any unnecessary bells and whistles. “I was inspired by Marcella Hazan, evenings at Via Carota, my desire for an Italian heritage in my youth, Paul Bertolli, Chez Panisse, Chris Morocco…” The resulting recipe is a meat sauce that, after two hours cook time, turns soft, tender, and velvety. No ingredient outshines another. “The sauce should cling on to noodles, draping and coating each strand,” said Andy. Here’s the bolognese breakdown:

The meat

At first, Andy tried to convince us that the meat should be hand-chopped skirt steak, painstakingly chopped by you. “Lol no,” was the general feedback. “It’s a more interesting cut of meat,” he pleaded, but that homestead aesthetic was not what we were going for this time, and it certainly wasn’t easier that buying ground chunk. We’re going with ground chuck, plus some pancetta for a fuller, meatier final flavor. The chuck gets browned for a few crucial minutes before the low and slow Sunday sauce simmer begins. A NOTE: If cooked on too high a heat, ground beef will turn into a rubber band. That’s why we keep the heat low, and why it takes so damn long to reach that final velvet state.

The tomato paste

NO CANNED TOMATO ZONE. Tomato paste only this time! It adds color, body, and acidity. “Water from canned tomatoes would dilute the flavor and texture,” said Andy. “I don’t want pieces of tomato in my sauce. I want it to be rustica, not fancy.”

The milk and chicken stock and wine

Those are the only liquids we need. The milk adds more fat content, a.k.a. “richness,” and helps the beef achieve that velvety consistency. The stock rounds out the meat flavor and gives the beef something to cook down in without drying out. The wine adds acidity.

The aromatics, featuring carrots

We pulse the aromatics—carrot, onion, celery—in a food processor until they’re practically the same size as the ground meat. That consistency in size keeps one flavor in the sauce from dominating, and we’re especially looking at you, carrots.

The lone bay leaf

That mystery aromatic strikes again.

The pasta

Hot take from Andy here. NO DRIED PAPPARDELLE, or other wide noodles, he insisted. He tried several brands, they all broke too often and caused him immense stress. If you can use fresh pappardelle or tagliatelle, rejoice. If you’re using dry pasta, go with rigatoni. It catches the sauce in its ridges and tube better than anything else. (The Test Kitchen stans De Cecco)

The attitude

“It’s a meat sauce, not a tomato sauce,” Andy reminded me. “People have an idea of what they want bolognese to be, but it’s hard to pinpoint. This recipe is not a restaurant dish. It’s a Sunday sauce. I’m not trying to hurt you. Take a photo, tag me. If you have problems, tag me too.” We’re family now.

Get the recipe:

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Cauliflower Bolognese Is My Boyfriend Now—Apologies to My Husband | Healthyish

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As a vegetarian, my experience with bolognese consists of standing in the pastry kitchen at my former restaurant job, churning gelato while listening to the head chef shout « Bolo! Bolo! Bolo! » to the cooks in the back as each order came in. I didn’t even know what « bolo » (pronounced like the always-in-fashion tie) meant until I asked (derp). But, as it turns out, this ignorance made me the most unbiased judge of senior food editor Andy Baraghani‘s Cauliflower Bolognese. With no meaty ragù in my taste memory, I had a blank palate and an open mind. This cauli bolo (or cauli bo, as I’ve affectionately dubbed it) didn’t have to live up to any impossible-to-meet (or meat!) standards: I could judge it by its own vegetarian credentials.

Because while cauliflower bolognese takes inspiration from the classic beef-pork, or beef-pork-veal, or beef-pork-antelope sausage (?!) sauce in that it’s the perfect, luscious, glossy, Sunday-night-into-Monday-lunch meal—this version is another beast entirely.

In place of ground meat, cauliflower is our foundation: It gets blitzed in a food processor as if you’re making cauli rice, then cooked down with finely chopped shiitake mushrooms (for a savory, earthy base), onion, sliced chile, woodsy rosemary, plenty of tomato paste, and garlic—lots of garlic. Once the cauliflower starts to lose its moisture (a good indicator is that it will start to stick to the pot), you’ll shuttle in al dente pasta and plenty of its cooking liquid. With that addition, the contents of your Dutch oven transform from a mixture of sweated vegetables and aromatics to a velvety but—trust me—bitsy sauce. (Honestly, the texture is not unlike that of cottage cheese: creamy but not homogenous.) Rigatoni is the shape you want: The sauce burrows away in those tubes, ready to surprise and delight you with every bite.

My fixation with the tomato-y, cheesy, rich-but-not-heavy cauli bo—I ate it three days in a row, hiding it from my partner onto whom I normally push all pasta leftovers—piqued my curiosity about its meat counterpart. So I texted my friends—not my colleagues, since that would’ve been embarrassing—about the ideal texture of bolognese. « Pretty creamy, » one responded. « But the meat adds a pleasant chewiness. It sounds weird and terrible, but I can’t think of another word. It should also kind of melt in your mouth after the first few bites. » Another one said « warm and soft. » When I reminded him that warm is not a texture, he rebutted, « True, but it’s a mouthfeel. Crumbly. » What insight! At that point I mustered the courage to just ask the food editors, who said « velvety, » « meat pudding, » « meat paste, » and « Sloppy Joe. »

So this isn’t a meat pudding, but it could pass as the filling for a vegetarian Sloppy Joe, and I’d definitely describe it as velvety. And there you have it: Cauliflower bolognese isn’t as wildly different from bolognese-bolognese as I’d originally predicted. Besides, Andy admitted to me (actually, I was eavesdropping) that even though he has been ankle-deep in meat bolognese all month (he’s working on a recipe), it was the cauliflower bolognese he returned to for a second helping.

Get your own boyfriend:

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No, this isn’t some kind of joke, and you don’t have to be a vegetarian to love what’s going on here. Chopped-up cauliflower and mushrooms provide comparable richness and texture to what you usually get from the classic long-cooked ground meat sauce.

SEE RECIPE

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Cauliflower Bolognese Recipe | Bon Appetit

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Heat ¼ cup oil and 2 Tbsp. butter in a large heavy pot over medium-high. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 4–6 minutes. Add onion and 2 Tbsp. oil to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is very soft and golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Add garlic, chile, and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is softened and mixture is very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until paste is slightly darkened and begins to stick to bottom of pot, about 2 minutes. Add cauliflower and cook, yes, still stirring occasionally, until cauliflower just begins to soften, 6–8 minutes.

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