If you wanna be a great self-taught cook, you have got to do your research. That means cook books, Google, and cooking shows. And, although the quintessential network for cooking, The Food Network, is great mindless television it is certainly not the place to go to **learn** to cook. Sure, you can learn recipes and basic techniques, but if you want know how to cook there’s a much better network to watch.
Yup, the Public Broadcasting Service has cooking shows and they are darn good. It features everyone from Julia Child to Martha Stewart and programs on everything from authentic Asian cooking (Simply Ming) to taste-tested recipes (Cook’s Kitchen). I love my PBS cooking shows and have learned so, so much from watching them.
One of my favorites is Lidia’s Italy. Host Lidia Bastianich is an Emmy award-winning television host, best-selling cookbook author, and restaurateur. She’s like the Italian grandmother I never had. She talks about cooking with ease and has a way of teaching the home-cook techniques of the many generations of Italian cooks before her.
I have watched her cook many things but nothing struck my fancy as much as her Ragu alla Bolognese Ricetta Antica. Maybe it was the attention to detail needed to get the sauce just right (we’ll get into that in a second) or maybe it was the bacon (we’ll get into that, too).
Bolognese is something I’ve wanted to learn to make for a while and this recipe gave me the motivation to give it a try. And, boy, am I glad I did.
Lidia’s recipe is beyond precise even if some of the instructions seem a little vague. I.e. “Cook for 3 minutes or more, stirring often, until the bacon and garlic are sizzling and aromatic and there’s a good deal of fat in the pan.” But, if you follow the instructions to the T, you’ll achieve the exact results she explains. In this bacon example, sizzle, aromatics, and a “good deal of fat” were all achieve after just a few minutes of cooking just like the recipe says.
Here’s what you’ll need (there’s only two of us in this house, so I reduced the amount of the ingredients by 1/4. Those adjustments are reflected in the quantities below):
The prepared ground meat simply consists of 1/3 lb of veal, 1/3 lb of pork, and 1/3 pound of beef. My local food store sells this pre-packaged as “Meatloaf Mix.” To prepare it, you just crumble the ground meats with your fingers, then add in 1/2-3/4c of liquid (in this case, chicken broth although the recipe calls for wine. I just didn’t have any!) and mix together until everything is moistened. No one wants dry bolognese!
Here are some photos of the steps.
Pestata is sliced raw bacon and three cloves of garlic all ground up in a food processor. It’s actually quite a brilliant technique since it allows you to get that smoked flavor of bacon and sweet flavor of garlic in your sauce without biting into chunks of either. It sort of ends up just melting into the sauce. You don’t see the bacon or garlic when it’s done but you taste a little something that seems rich and deep.
After cooking the pestata with the veggies, you’ll end up with this:
Then you add in the tomato paste and prepared meat mixture and you have this:
Lidia’s instructions say the following about cooking this meat mixture:
Soon the meat liquid will almost cover the meat itself. Cook at high heat, stirring often, until all that liquid has disappeared, even in the bottom of the pan. This will take 1/2-hour to 45 minutes, depending on the heat and width of the pan. Stir occasionally and as the liquid level diminishes, lower the heat too, so the meat doesn’t burn.
I was a little leery of this step since it wasn’t as precise as I am used to. But, I went with it. And, sure enough, after less than a minute or two, the meat was swimming in its own liquid. I kept cooking, reduced the heat, cooked some more, reduced the heat, and so on until there was literally only the smallest amount of fat left in the pan…probably 15-20 minutes. The meat browned beautifully and developed such a great flavor. I’ve never tasted ground meat that tastes so good. So, my advice to you, is to just keep cooking. It seems weird and vague, but it is exactly how it goes.
Next step is adding in the liquids. Be sure your milk and broth are heated over low heat. It will come up to temp without boiling…slowly. I put my liquids on the stove and turned on the heat when I started the meat. It was ready to go when I needed it. Just keep an eye on it and reduce the heat if it gets too hot. You want it hot so it doesn’t reduce the temp of the meat and cause all of it to seize up. After adding about 3/4 of the milk, here’s what I had:
You want to maintain this ratio of liquid to meat throughout the rest of the cooking time (about 60 to 90 minutes). You’ll cover, let it simmer (with the bubbles barely breaking the surface. I had my temp at med-low to low the whole time), add the rest of the milk, cover, simmer, add some broth, cover, simmer, and continue adding broth until the time runs out. You can go longer if you want, but no longer than three hours. I reduced my cooking time only because I had reduced the ingredients so much.
During the last simmer session, you’ll want to leave the lid off and let most of the liquid evaporate. Taste, add salt to taste and add ground pepper to taste.
Finally after about two hours, this is what you have…
Amazing, right? Trust me, it tastes and smells even better!
So, if you’ve been dying to make some authentic Italian, quit watching Giada and find your local PBS station. Your stomach and your brain will be happy you did!