Let’s eat

Pasta with bolognese

Pasta makes for a terrific dinner any time of year, but it’s especially tasty in winter when all you want to do after being outside in the cold is hunker down with a big, warm, satisfying bowl of comfort food.

Slow-simmered bolognese — a rich ground beef ragu that originated in the late 18th century in Bologna, Italy — is a go-to dish in many Italian kitchens. The rich, meaty sauce pairs wonderfully with broad, flat tagliatelle, and despite its sumptuous mouth feel, it doesn’t require any fancy-pants ingredients.

While no two bolognese recipes are exactly the same, the sauce is always meat-forward, with supporting flavors that come from everyday vegetables such as carrots, celery and onion, canned tomatoes or tomato paste, dry wine, and milk or cream. Maybe add a little pork fat in the form of pancetta, if you want to get fancy.

This easy bolognese recipe will assure your family eat wells when it’s chilly and gray outside. It takes some time to simmer and bubble away on the stovetop, but think of how good your kitchen will smell! Plus, any leftovers freeze well, so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor on a weeknight or get a free pass for another weekend.

Tradition calls for tossing bolognese with fresh tagliatelle, tortellini or gnocchi; you also could use pappardella or fresh lasagna noodles that have been cut into 1-inch ribbons by hand. If you can’t find or don’t want to make fresh pasta, ridged dry pasta, such as penne rigate, or tubed pasta such as paccheri or rigatoni also works. (You want the pasta to capture the sauce.)

It’s equally tasty spooned on baked or fried polenta or on top of a bed of crispy potatoes. Or, layer it with plain egg or spinach noodles and bechamel (white) sauce for another Italian classic.

Lasagna bolognese

Serves four for

two dinners

1     tablespoon

vegetable     oil

3     tablespoons butter

1/4     cup chopped yellow         onion

1     cup chopped carrot

1/2     cup minced celery         with leaves

8    ounces ground pork

1     pound ground beef

Salt     and freshly ground         black pepper

1 1/4     cups milk

1/4     teaspoon freshly         grated nutmeg

1     cup dry white wine

2 1/2     cups canned peeled         whole Italian         tomatoes, broken up     with your hands,         with their juice

Grated parmesan cheese or     Grana Padano, for         serving

Put oil, butter and onion in a heavy 5-quart pot and turn heat to medium-low. Cook until onion has become translucent, then add the carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat well.

Add ground pork and beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well and cook until the meat has lost its raw, red color and has browned lightly.

Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely, about 30 minutes. Add nutmeg and stir.

Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated another 20-30 minutes. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all of the ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to simmer, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmer, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.

Cook uncovered for 2 to 3 hours, stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate form the meat. To keep it from sticking, add 1/2 cup water as necessary. Cook until sauce is the texture and concentration you like. Taste and correct for salt. Store in a container in the fridge for up to five days.

Toss with cooked tagliatelli or serve over polenta or crispy potatoes with grated Parmesan or Grana Padano on the side.

Adapted from “Food 52 A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead” by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (Ten Speed Press, Oct. 2016.)

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtm ckay.