Fettucine Bolognese, or pasta in a meltingly tender and richly flavored meat sauce, is one of my favorite Sunday night family meals. The sauce simmers on the stove for several hours, making the house smell delicious and inviting, and the end result is a comforting yet elegant dish. I’d even serve it to company.
I’ll be honest, there are a lot of vegetables to chop but the job is made simple with the help of a food processor. Always cut them into large chunks before they go in, otherwise they won’t process properly.
Start with just the onions (you don’t want to crowd the machine) and pulse until very finely chopped but not puréed.
Transfer the onions to a bowl and then process the carrots and celery together the same way.
Heat a bit of olive oil in a large pot and cook the vegetables and garlic until soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the pancetta, ground beef, salt and pepper to the vegetables. Note that the recipe calls for 85% lean ground beef. Don’t be tempted to use extra lean. I’ve tried it and, believe me, it’s not nearly as good. Fat adds flavor and keeps the meat moist, plus you can skim off any excess grease at the end.
Cook until the beef is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.
Add the red wine and cook until the liquid dissolves. Anytime you’re cooking with wine, use one that’s cheap but good enough to drink. The recipe only calls for a half cup so, unless you’re planning to drink the rest, you might want to buy a package of mini bottles. They come in very handy in the kitchen.
Add the crushed tomatoes, beef stock and oregano and simmer for an hour and a half.
Add some whole milk and simmer again until the milk is absorbed into the sauce, about 35 minutes.
When the sauce is done, spoon any excess grease off the top. Don’t worry about getting it all (it’s impossible and you don’t want to lose flavor anyway); I typically take off about 1/4 cup.
Keep the sauce warm while you cook the pasta.
Ladle out and reserve one cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander. Toss the noodles with the sauce, adding the reserved cooking water little by little if it seems dry. As always, taste and adjust the seasoning before serving.
Top with grated Parmesan and freshly chopped herbs and serve. If you’re looking for a salad to go with it, you might consider my Big Italian Salad or Arugula with Lemon & Shaved Parmesan and Olive Oil. Enjoy!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
- 2 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
- 3 ounces pancetta, chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (plus more for pasta water)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 pound fresh fettucini (available in the refrigerator section of most supermarkets; see note)
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving (optional)
- Handful chopped fresh basil or parsley, for serving (optional)
- Place onions in bowl of food processor fitted with metal blade. Pulse until very finely chopped but not puréed. Transfer onions to separate bowl, then add carrots and celery to food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer vegetables to bowl with onions.
- Heat olive oil in large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and vegetable mixture and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat if vegetables start to brown.
- Add ground beef, pancetta, salt and pepper and cook over medium-high heat, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until meat is no longer pink, 5-10 minutes.
- Add red wine and cook until liquid is almost dissolved, 1-2 minutes.
- Add beef stock, crushed tomatoes and oregano. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir, then cover completely with lid and simmer 45 minutes more.
- Add milk to sauce. Cover with lid slightly ajar and simmer until milk is absorbed, about 35 minutes. If sauce looks greasy, use a soup spoon to skim some of the fat off the top. (Don't remove all of the fat; I typically take out about 1/4 cup). Cover to keep warm off the heat while you make the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Before straining, ladle out 1 cup of pasta water into a bowl or measuring cup and set aside. Drain noodles in a colander, then add them to the sauce. Toss with tongs, adding reserved pasta water little by little if sauce seems dry. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan and fresh herbs if desired.
- Note: I like the Buitoni brand of fresh pasta sold in the refrigerator case at most supermarkets for this dish. It cooks very quickly and tastes great. If you can't find fresh, feel free to substitute dried.
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