I didn’t start keeping kosher until I was in my mid-20s, and I often find myself missing wonderful meals that I used to eat but would no longer choose to have. I take a lot of pleasure in making those recipes into kosher versions that I enjoy so very much. I especially love it when people who have had the “real version” can’t tell the difference.
There has been a lot of growth in the kosher market, from decent bacon to plant-based dairy products that can be mixed in with it. Bolognese sauce is one of my favorites. It’s like a luxury meat sauce with subtle yet rich flavoring. It takes about 35 minutes to prepare, but it needs to simmer for a couple of hours to get the best results. I suggest serving it with either pappardelle or rigatoni pasta.
1 pound of pasta, prepared using the instructions on the label
1½ pounds ground beef
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 ounces kosher bacon, Empire turkey bacon or beef fry
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ of a large onion, finely chopped, about 1½ cups
1 large stalk of celery, finely chopped about ¾ cup
1 large carrot, finely chopped about ¾ cup
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup tomato paste
1½ cups chicken broth
¾ cup dry white wine
1 cup pareve milk substitute. I recommend unsweetened Califia Farms Barista Oat Milk. It has the closest texture to whole milk and leaves no strange aftertaste
A pinch of nutmeg
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
Remove the ground beef from your refrigerator, unwrap it and place it in a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle the meat with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and lightly mix with your hands for about 20 seconds. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. I learned this baking soda trick a few years ago, and it works wonders on frozen ground beef, which often does not brown as nicely as fresh meat. Keep it in mind the next time you want to make chili.
Chop the onion, carrot and celery. This is a mirepoix, which is a staple base for soups and savory dishes. Mirepoix is the French term; this same mixture of 2 parts onion to 1 part each of celery and carrot is called a soffritto in Italian cooking.
Over medium-low heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot or enameled Dutch oven. Add the mirepoix and lightly sauté for 10-12 minutes, stirring every minute or so. The intention is to cook this over medium-low heat to allow tender but crisp vegetables that won’t caramelize.
Once cooked to a tender-crisp, scoop the mixture into a large bowl. Add the last tablespoon of olive oil to the pot, then add the meat, pinching tablespoon-size pieces from the mound and adding them one at a time. Brown for 8-10 minutes, stirring and flipping well at the 5-minute mark. You may notice some foaming around the meat while it’s cooking. That’s from the baking soda, and it cooks out after a few minutes.
While the meat is finishing, chop about 5 ounces of kosher bacon and mince a clove of garlic.
Scoop the browned meat into the bowl with the onion mixture with a slotted spoon, leaving the grease from the beef in the bottom of the pan.
Add the bacon pieces, stirring occasionally, and allow to cook for another 10 minutes or until the edges start to brown.
Add the meatballs and the mirepoix back into the pot with the bacon and turn the heat up to medium.
Stir in the garlic and allow to cook for about 1 minute before pouring in the wine. As it comes to a boil, use a wooden spoon to scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, which will add much more flavor to the sauce.
Using a spatula or spoon, start to break down the larger chunks of meat into the smallest bits that you’re able. Some of us have more patience than others — I tend to have less patience for tasks like this, but it’s worth the extra effort.
When the wine is almost cooked out completely from the bottom of the pan, reduce the heat again to medium-low, then stir in the tomato paste, bay leaf and nutmeg. Cook until the sauce starts to darken, another 5-8 minutes. Stir in the pareve milk substitute.
Pour in the chicken broth. Put the heat to the very lowest setting and simmer uncovered for 2 to 2½ hours or until the sauce is well reduced. If your sauce is looking on the dry side at around the hour-and-a-half mark, add in another half cup of chicken stock. If it seems wet at the 2-hour mark give it some extra time. The heat should be so low that you only see an occasional bubble. Some burners have a lower cooking point than others, which is why the cooking time may vary depending on your settings and choice of pot. The texture of the sauce will be velvety, and the meat will seem to melt into your mouth due to the long cooking time.
Prepare your choice of pasta to the specifications on the package, drain and toss it immediately into the sauce. Bolognese sauce will coat the pasta differently than marinara sauce. It will seem more like a gravy with chunks of beef and bacon.
Garnish with fresh Italian parsley if you’d like to add a little color to your plate. Add salt to taste; the meat, bacon and chicken broth already have salt in them, and I rarely find the need to add extra salt to this meal.
Traditionally this recipe is topped with cheese, but it’s so good on its own that I’ve never missed it.
Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.