Thursday, February 24, 2011

Simple beef bolognese with rigatoni pasta

That, right there, is what I call dinner.  Doesn't it look so warm and inviting?  A big plate of noodles topped with a heaping pile of meaty homemade sauce.  Mamma Mia!

Oh how I love pasta night, and it doesn't seem to come often enough.  Back in high school when I was still a growing kid (praying for that growth spurt the doctor so dutifully promised), especially during track season, I had spaghetti at least twice a week and... oh my word... was it good!  My sister and I couldn't get enough of the thin buttery noodles swimming in marinara sauce.  My dad, on the other hand, became so tired of it that he'd request that my mom served it on nights when he was going to be late or out of town on a business trip.  He'd say that pasta is too plain, just carbohydrates and no protein, and he preferred something more balanced.  Like, totally unfair, Dad!  (Note: Imagine that last sentence with a whiny teenage voice and some pouting.  Yes, I know it's obnoxious.  Thankfully, I grew out of that phase quickly.)

Fast forward a few years to college.  Still loving pasta and, being solely in charge of my meals, I ate it regularly.  It was inexpensive, delicious, and oh so filling.  Plus, I had really taken to running since tennis wasn't as convenient, and all of those carbs gave me boundless energy.  And then I started to notice that my friends would scoff at the amount of pasta I ate.

them: "You... eat... carbs?"
me: "Uh, yes, yes I do.  Don't you?"
them: "Oh, I never eat carbs.  They make you gain so much weight."

Too afraid of offending my new friends and floormates, I kept my mouth shut.  But now?  I'd probably have uttered something along the lines of, "Sweetheart, it's not pasta that's making you gain weight.  It's the excessive fast food, pints of beer, and lack of exercise that's expanding your waistline.  Oh, and by the way, there are carbohydrates in practically everything!"  What, too much?  :)

But, seriously, carbohydrates get such a bad rap.  (I'm talking to you, Atkins diet.)  They are an important part of a healthy diet and are in items like fruit, too.  Just so we're clear, I'm not suggesting you go eat an entire loaf of bread, but the FDA recommends that 60% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates.  Everything in moderation, friends!  Blah blah blah, lecture over.  What you should pay attention to is this: a plate of pasta with a rich and hearty homemade sauce packed with vegetables, beef, and cheese.  Sounds like a pretty well-balanced meal to me!

If I could go back in time and have one shot at convincing my dad to eat more pasta, this bolognese is exactly what I'd serve him.  Bolognese, pronounced bo-lone-YAZE, is the Italian name for a meaty sauce for pasta that originated in the city of Bologna.  This isn't your classic marinara sauce out of a jar, kids, but it's almost that easy.  It's chunky and full of herbs and vegetables and savory ground beef.  The vegetables are first sauteed with garlic and onion so they become soft and absorb the flavors of the tomatoes and seasonings, then mixed with the beef and cheese.  And then, my favorite part, is when the pasta meats the bolognese.  The noodles are big enough that chunks of the beef and sauce get "stuck" in the noodle.  Be still my carbohydrate-loving heart.

I was genuinely surprised at how quickly and easily this sauce came together, having expected to be toiling away in my kitchen all afternoon like the movies portray their version of a cooking Italian woman.  Not that I'm even the slightest bit Italian.  I've asked my parents time and time again if there was some tiny Italian heritage in our family.  "Sure, Katy.  What gave it away?  Your pale freckly skin and blue eyes?  Light curly hair?"  Oh, how cruel parents can be.  I'll just comfort myself with my bowl of pasta and bolognese, thankyouverymuch.

One Year Ago: Pear spice muffins

Simple Bolognese with Rigatoni
(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)
-makes 6 servings

A few notes: The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup of olive oil, but I found that to be too much oil once the fat from the beef renders and ended up removing some while the bolognese simmered.  Also, the amounts of vegetables and beef are given below but don't fuss if they aren't exact -- the sauce is meant to be rustic and hearty, so, like chili, each batch will be different.  Finally, if you have leftovers, I highly recommend you store the pasta and sauce together, mixed, in the refrigerator in a sealed container.  Like a lasagna or chili, the flavors will only get better!

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 carrot, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 pound ground chuck beef
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 Tablespoons dried parsley [optional]
8 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound cooked rigatoni noodles (or other large noodle of your choice)

In a large stock pot over medium heat, add extra-virgin olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions become very soft, about 8 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and saute for 5 minutes. Raise heat to high and add the ground beef. Saute, stirring frequently and breaking up any large lumps and cook until meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juice, parsley and basil and cook over medium low heat until the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes hour.

Remove from heat and finish bolognese with Parmesan cheese. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over cooked pasta.


  1. I love carbs. I love pasta. I don't understand people who don't eat pasta. I could eat it with butter, with sauce, plain - when I was little I even crunched on uncooked boxed pasta.

  2. (as angels sing) Thank you, YY! Finally, someone who understands me and my love of pasta. Oh, and totally with you on munching uncooked pasta. :)

    Another way to try it that a college roommate taught me -- buttered noodles with melted Kraft American cheese on top. Sounds gross, but totally 100% delicious comfort food. Must be eaten while wearing sweatpants.

  3. This looks delicious! Can't wait to try it on my family. Have a great weekend!