I always* thought spaghetti bolognese (spag-bol in the UK) was just spaghetti with tomato/ground beef sauce. That is, I did until I saw Heston Blumenthal make his perfect version of it on his show In Search of Perfection. For those that don't know, Blumenthal owns/runs The Fat Duck in England, rated the top restaurant in England in 2007 and 2008, best in the world in 2005.
He starts with oxtail, simmers things for hours upon hours, and in general makes simple dishes look amazingly complicated. His recipe here is a shortened version of that on his show. This is an earlier and even simpler version.
His version runs about 3 days long, time that I didn't have. I found a shortened and simpler recipe over at Just Hungry, and I was on my way. At 4pm I left to shop, and by 5:30pm the vegies were frying away. I mostly followed the JH recipe, but halved it-ish. I hope to eat at 8pm. (Edit: We ate at 7:45pm.) The sauce simmered for 1 3/4 hours; I would have liked to let it go another hour at least, but when you have a hungry date waiting, you cut corners.
Fry 1 c. each carrots, onion, fennel and celery, all finely diced. Brown ground meat (I used 1/2 lb. lean beef, 1/4 lb. pork, 1/4 lb. veal), add to veg, along with herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf), some red wine, some olive oil, 1/2-ish 796g canned tomatoes and 2 c. fresh diced tomatoes. Simmer for hours.
It sounds simple, and it is. It also turned out well. With a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan (a blend from my local deli), the dish was rich, creamy (some people add milk) and satisfying. It did taste a lot like a simple pasta/tomato sauce/meat dish, and essentially that's what it is. Maybe I'm simply missing something from the debate about differences in Italian regional cooking, though it's not nearly as tomatoey as standard American pasta sauces, which are more like the Neapolitan version (Naples, in southern Italy) than the Bolognese. (Thanks again, Wikipedia.)
Both JH and my man Heston use dry pasta, and while I do love a good dry pasta, I haven't read anywhere why dry instead of fresh, though I seem to remember him discussing it on the show. The fresh pasta turned out just fine, though I did miss that wheaty durum taste you get with dry pasta.
The meat that I used wasn't particularly fatty, and I think this was a mistake. My options at the butcher were lean or extra-lean, though I suppose I could have asked them to grind some with the fat still attached. The pork and veal looked kinda fatty, so I thought it would make up for it. Next time I think I'll pay attention to JH's recipe and throw some bacon (pancetta) in the pan as well. I also don't think I browned the meat very well. I think I needed a hotter pan, or more oil, but the meat released a lot of liquid and stewed as much as it fried. Tips?
* always, Brenton? Hadn't really registered the phrase until a few years ago.