The Mercato Centrale in Florence is a beautiful and wonderful place for foodies and non-foodies alike. You can spend hours exploring different vendors offering the freshest produce, meats, fish, pastas, breads, cheeses, and desserts, as well as packaged Italian souvenirs, spices, oils and made-to-order food and coffee. As an observer, who is soaking in all the action, it is quite an enjoyable experience.
But I was there on a mission– I wanted to make an outstanding Spaghetti Bolognese using the freshest and highest quality ingredients I could get my hands on… and oh, my gosh… it was one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. Yes, I’ll admit that back in Chicago, my version of Spaghetti Bolognese is ground beef, specialty pasta sauce (I like to get fancy with Mario Batali), and spaghetti squash… And I have a food blog, HAH! Call me crazy, but I just do not love pasta and I rarely cook big meals during the week… especially, when there are carbs involved. I save all my carbs for dessert… But when in Italy, you do as the Italians do– a real Spaghetti Bolognese and maybe some not so authentic Italian gluten-free pasta.
Prior to visiting the market, I made sure to study all of my ingredients in Italian so I could shop with ease. Although the vendors were more than helpful, I’ve never been so overwhelmed! The sheer number of vendors is enough to stress someone out, but when you take into account that you’re speaking in another language, using a currency you’re not used to, and making your way through a big crowd? I thought I was going to sit in the middle of the market and just start crying; and I LOVE going grocery shopping when I have a recipe on my mind! It’s no surprise it took me three additional trips to different local markets on my way home… And I caved and I went to Eataly to grab some spices– so sue me!
In the end, the preparation, the fight, and the stress was well worth it. The final result was a rich, creamy, and deep Bolognese that consisted of carrots, celery, onion, ground pork, beef, pancetta, porcini mushrooms, and milk. The secret to a rich and indulgent Bolognese is harvesting the caramel, which is a brilliant technique I discovered from the always entertaining blog, Lady and Pups, that gives the Bolognese a deeply rich flavor.
From the girl who calls store-bought pasta sauce and ground beef Bolognese, I am so happy I took the time to create an authentic Bolognese! Now I just need to eat it with real pasta.
Spaghetti Bolognese Recipe by Lady and Pups:
1/3 cup (75 ml) (or slightly more if your ground beef is very lean) of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of finely diced pancetta
21 ounces (600 grams) of fatty ground pork
23.6 ounces (670 grams) of ground beef
¼ heaping cup (10 grams) of dried porcini mushrooms
7 cloves of garlic, minced
10 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tablespoons of minced rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon of chili flakes
2 medium stalks of celery
1 large onion
1 small carrot
4 dried bay leaves (or 2 fresh bay leaves)
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 piece of (2″x2″) of Parmigiano rind
7 ½ cup (1250 ml) of whole milk, divided into 1 1/2 cup or 375 ml for each addition
4 cans (400 grams for each can or 1600 grams in total) of good quality Italian peeled tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes and it worked out perfectly since I have limited kitchen supplies at the moment)
Coarse sea salt/grey salt and freshly ground black pepper to season along the way
Any type of fresh thick-cut pasta, such as tagliatelle
Little nub of unsalted butter for each serving
Aged Parmigiano cheese to grate
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
- To prepare the ingredients, finely mince the celery, onions, and carrots and set aside. Wash the dried porcini mushrooms to get rid of any sands and impurity and set aside. Blend all the canned tomatoes with the juice inside until smoothly pureed, and set aside.
- To brown the meat and vegetables, heat up the pan over medium-high heat and add 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Add the pancetta and cook until slightly browned, then add the ground pork and ground beef. Season with 1 teaspoon of sea salt/grey salt and 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Continue cooking until all the liquid has evaporated, and that there’s a layer of browning at the bottom of the pan, approximately 15 minutes.
- Add the porcini mushrooms, minced garlic, fresh thyme, minced rosemary and chili flakes and cook until fragrant. Add celery, onions, carrots, bay leaves, tomato paste and Parmigiano rind, and season again with 1 teaspoon of sea salt/grey salt and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. The vegetables will release juice/liquid which is going to “loosen” the browning on the bottom of the pan. Scrape the brownings with a wooden spatula and keep cooking until all the juice/liquid has evaporated and that there’s A BRAND NEW layer of browning forming at the bottom of the pan, approximately 15 minutes.
- To reduce the milk and harvest the caramel, add 1 1/2 cup of whole milk once all the meat and vegetables have browned. Keep the heat on medium-high, and stir to evenly mix all the ingredients together. The milk will loosen the brownings and you will scrape it off with your wooden spatula to let it melt and become part of the sauce, then let it cook and the milk will completely evaporate and form ANOTHER NEW LAYER of brownings, approximately 20 minutes. Add the next 1 1/2 cup of whole milk and repeat this process until there is no more milk left. If your stove tends to heat unevenly, move around the pan to “maximize” the brownings. Don’t be afraid to let it get deeply rich and dark brown, as long as it DOESN’T BURN/BLACKEN (moving the pan also prevents partial burning due to centralized heat). You will harvest the caramel (the brownings!) in each of the 5 additions of milk, and by the end of it, you should have a pot of meat sauce that’s rich and brown with intense flavor. This will take approximately 2 hours.
- Once the last addition of milk has been added, reduced and browned, you can now add all the pureed tomatoes. Season again with sea salt/grey salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir to evenly mix the ingredients and scrape the brownings on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat down to medium-low and partially cover the pan with a lid. Let the sauce reduce down by 1/3 to almost 1/2. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- Serve over pasta and sprinkle with more freshly grated Parmigiano cheese.