I married an Italian – an Italian who likes to cook and is good at it. So, you know, no pressure there. My culinary “training” and experience while growing up, on the other hand, was focused on simple Midwestern comfort food. I have probably mentioned before that I just don’t have good intuition when it comes to adding spices and seasoning to dishes. With my husband’s guidance, I am learning my way. But, considering my audience (and, in fairness, he is pretty easy to please, but still…), I tread these waters delicately.
As a result, I stick to simple and universally appealing meals (I do also have three kids to feed). Considering my husband’s heritage, I rarely make Italian dishes because, honestly, I know he would make it better…and that just comes naturally to him. I would be the one to fret over the exact measure of oregano to add, where he just does it to taste. Yet, I do love using my crockpot and I was really looking to add something new and different to the rotation, so I took a chance with the Crockpot Bolognese recipe from Skinnytaste (click HERE for original recipe).
Ingredients: 4 oz chopped pancetta (or center cut bacon), 1 Tbsp butter or olive oil, 1 large white onion minced, 2 celery stalks minced (approx. ¾ cup), 2 carrots minced (approx. ¾ cup), 2 pounds lean ground beef (90% or higher), ¼ cup white wine, 2x 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes, 3 bay leaves, salt and pepper, ¼ cup fresh parsley, ½ cup fat-free half-and-half
*See my notes below about adding fresh crushed garlic and other seasonings, such as oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary or Italian seasoning blend.
Directions: Saute pancetta on low-medium heat until the fat melts (approx. 4-5 minutes). Add butter or olive oil, onions, celery, and carrots (add crushed garlic here if desired) and cook until soft (approx. 5 minutes). Add meat, salt and pepper, and brown over medium-high heat. Drain the fat and add wine, cooking until reduced (approx. 3-4 minutes). Put everything into the crock pot with tomatoes, bay leaves, salt and pepper (add oregano, basil, etc., if desired here). Cook in crock pot on LOW for 6 hours. After 6 hours, adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in half-and-half and parsley. Serve over pasta.
So, first thing, I swore that all dead Italian matriarchs were rolling over in their graves when I added the carrot and celery. In Bolognese?!?! Seriously?!?! But, I have to be honest, you don’t taste it. I do like that it adds more veg to the dish…it’s one of these “deceptively delicious” things. I had to tell my husband that they were in there because I just knew he would not be easily deceived. The kids, however, NOT A CLUE. Score!
Then there was the addition of the cream. I used fat-free half-and-half. Now, before I added it, I searched for a few “authentic” recipes online just for comparison and, it turns out they add dairy also. It really seemed odd…but I’m not Italian, so what do I know? Of course, the second question my husband asked (after the one about the extra veggies)….”did you add cream?” Oh my gosh…he knew. And, apparently, he debates on adding it to his Bolognese when he makes it – sometimes he does, other times he does not. So, phew, that worked out too.
After stewing in the sauce for a good portion of the day, the beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The flavors were hearty and authentic. This does not, I repeat DOES NOT, taste “skinny”. Sure, if you wanted to make it fancy, add a little Italian sausage (you could try chicken or turkey to keep in line with making this a lean dish). I followed the original recipe and do want to add garlic and oregano or Italian seasoning blend (with oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) next time. The dish didn’t taste like it lacked anything, actually, but I can’t see that adding any of those things would hurt. (Maybe this is where being a novice comes into play?) Eating this made me think of the Sunday evening family meal…you know the ones where the WHOLE extended family would get together at Grandmas (because they all lived in a one block radius of one another – and God help you if you didn’t come)? It made me yearn for a bottle of table red wine, which I did not have. Of course, we don’t have any extended family here, but I am quite tempted to make this the weekly Sunday meal. It is amazing! And, the leftovers were even more so amazing. Enjoy!