Angela and I have gone out to a restaurant for dinner on Valentine’s Day exactly once. From the crowded restaurant to the subpar, but expensive food, it was an experience that we didn’t want to repeat. So last year we went to our favorite pizza place. Given that Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday this year, I decided that I would make a special dinner for Angela. I decided on Tagliatelle alla Bolognese as it is one of Angela’s favorite foods. I made some bread and crème brûlée.
And then I went and ruined it by spilling hot chicken stock on my toe. I had taken advantage of the fact that I had to stay home to watch the sauce to make a large batch of chicken stock. All was going well until I was about to strain it. I cook the chicken stock in a stock pot with all the solids inside a pasta strainer. To get as much liquid out of the solids as possible, I had picked up the strainer and was trying to push any remaining liquid out. This is when tragedy struck. The strainer slipped out of my hands, sending chicken stock flying. Some of it flew up and landed on my sock-clad foot. I got the sock off as quickly as possible but the damage was already done.
My foot is finally starting to heal, a week and a half later. I’ve been forced to wear sandals and socks to work since then. It did, however, take my manager until yesterday to realize that I was wearing them and duly make fun of me. Apparently wearing orange toed socks makes it more conspicuous.
Luckily, I only ruined the romantic mood on Valentine’s Day and not the food itself. The bread and crème brûlée were done. All that was left was to make the fresh pasta and it helped take my mind off the pain. Angela can comment on the funny dance I did to distract myself further.
Bolognese sauce is deservedly one of the most classic Italian pasta sauces. The long cooking in milk and wine helps mellow the beef to almost be reminiscient of veal. It also helps mellow the normally acidic bite of tomato sauces. In many ways, however, it almost seems to be the anti-Italian pasta. It’s one of the few times in Italian cooking where the sauce is the star and the pasta merely the sideshow.
Despite my mishap, this was still the right choice for Valentine’s Day. It’s a special meal, taking a good bit of time. But that time and effort pays off in a dish that can only really be described in superlatives.
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
1/2 lbs ground beef
1/4 lbs ground pork
salt and pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups canned tomatoes
1 1/2 lbs. fresh tagliatelle (made with 3 eggs and 3 cups of flour)
- Put the oil, 3 tbsp butter, and the onion in a large dutch oven and place over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring occassionally, until it has become transluscent.
- Add the celery and the carrot and cook for about 2 minutes more, stirring regularly.
- Add the ground beef and ground pork. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring the meat, until it loses its pink color.
- Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the milk has completely cooked away, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Add a pinch of nutmeg.
- Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Cook at a low simmer until the wine has completely cooked away, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cook at the barest of simmers for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. If the sauce dries out, add 1/2 cup of water, whenever necessary.
- Cook the fresh pasta and toss it with the sauce, adding the final tablespoon of butter.
- Serve immediately with grated parmigiano-reggiano.