At the ripe old age of 25, I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Florence, Italy. On weekends, I would go to visit my “Italian family.” This family just so happened to be friends of my parents who met each other while my father went to medical school in Bologna in the 1970s. Their apartments were on top of one another and they became fast and close friends. So it made sense since I was living only a short train ride away to visit when I could.
I have to tell you. Bologna serves some of the most incredible food Italy has to offer. And it was just my luck that Marissa (the matriarch of the family) was an incredible cook and made much of what the family ate from scratch.
One night we had a grand feast of the most incredible tasting food I’ve ever experienced in my life thus far. The main course? Tagliatelle alla Bolognese. They made me practice how to say it correctly. Tagliatelle is similar to the thickness of fettuccine and the sauce…well… it was Bolognese. And it was divine.
Over the years, I’ve tried to recreate the sauce from various recipes found in Italian cookbooks
and online blogs. One problem is that adding cream is quite important, but I cannot eat it anymore. So, this recipe has morphed out of my kitchen recently which I thought some of you non-dairy eaters may enjoy.
You need to know two things about Bolognese sauce. One – it’s more meat with some sauce than sauce with some meat. That’s important. Though I don’t eat meat all the time (in fact, most of my meals during the week are vegan), I do my best to use the best quality, grass-fed variety that is available. Please consider doing the same as it will certainly improve the taste and nutrient quality of what you are making.
And two – it’s real “Slow Food” at it’s best. What I mean is that the longer you allow this sauce to cook, the more incredible it will taste. And, it will taste even better the next day once the flavors begin to meld together. I don’t always have all day, so know that you can certainly serve it after letting it cook for a much shorter time.
Here’s my version which is loosely based on many different versions, but most specifically this one.
Pasta alla Bolognese (Gluten-free & Dairy-free)
- 2 or 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 or 3 tbsp Earth Balance (or ghee if you don’t mind using the clarified fat from butter)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 small ribs of celery, diced
- 3 medium carrots, diced
- 5 or 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lb organic, gluten and nitrate-free pancetta, roughly chopped
- 1 lb organic, grass-fed ground beef
- 1 28-oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2/3 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk
- sea salt
- black pepper
- Pasta (your choice)
Warm the oil and ‘butter’ over medium in a sauté pan. Add veggies and sauté with about 1/2 tsp sea salt for 5 minutes or so. Add pancetta and cook for another 10 minutes allowing the veggies to fully soften and the pancetta to brown a bit.
Turn the heat up to high and add the beef in thirds. Allow each third to lose it’s pink hue before adding the next. Keep everything moving and allow the meat to caramelize. If it begins to burn or stick to the pain, turn the heat down a bit. The caramelization process will take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes depending on the heat of your stove and conductivity of your pan.
Then add the vinegar to de-glaze the pan and cook away the alcohol. Scrape the pan to get off any stuck bits so that everything will be able to meld together. After a few minutes, turn the heat down to medium and add the almond milk, tomatoes, a tbsp of salt and a tsp of black pepper.
Once the mixture comes to a boil, turn it down to a simmer for at least 45 minutes keeping the pan covered with a lid. If you have the time, you can let this simmer for up to 4 hours as it was only add to the divine flavor.
When you’re ready to serve it, adjust seasonings and spoon over your pasta of choice. If you want to add in a bit of cheesy deliciousness, try adding a sprinkle of some Daiya mozzarella-style cheese. It’s gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free vegan cheese that actually melts and gets cheesy. I’m not kidding. It’s great.
This recipe makes enough for two lbs of pasta, so you can freeze the second half to reheat for another dinner! Bon appetit!