Orecchiette Bolognese by Chef Matt Jennings

Orecchiette Bolognese

Excerpted from Homegrown by Matt Jennings (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017.
Photographs by Huge Galdones

A meaty ragù is a back-pocket recipe: universally beloved (even, I’ve found, by picky children), it requires a tiny bit of effort and a decent investment of time, but it can be made well in advance and freezes beautifully, then defrosted for a weeknight dinner.

There are as many variations on ragù Bolognese as there are cooks making it. Some use a few different types of meat, including veal, pork, or lamb; others are fortified with chicken livers or prosciutto. For simplicity’s sake, I use ground beef, simmered for a long time in a combination of milk and tomatoes until it becomes a silky, rich sauce. I like to serve the sauce with orecchiette, because the little ears capture and hold the sauce, but you could substitute (fresh or dried) pappardelle or tagliatelle. Serves 6 as a main course.


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
½ cup finely diced yellow onion
¾ cup finely diced celery
¾ cup finely diced carrot
1 pound ground beef chuck
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry red wine
1¼ cups whole milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 pound dry or fresh orecchiette, pappardelle, or tagliatelle
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving


In a medium pot, heat the butter and canola oil over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 6 minutes. Add the celery and carrot and cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Cook the meat, breaking up the large chunks with a wooden spoon as it cooks, until the beef is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the wine has evaporated. Pour in the milk, add the nutmeg, and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the tomatoes and their juices and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the sauce is at a very slow simmer, barely bubbling. Add the bay leaf and cook, uncovered, for 2½ to 3 hours, until the meat is very tender and the sauce is rich and concentrated, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon. If the sauce begins to look too dry, add a bit of water; you don’t want the sauce to break or become too dry, but the goal is a reduced, concentrated sauce, so don’t overwater it.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bolognese can be made ahead; let cool to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator. It will keep for up to 1 week or can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw before using.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the orecchiette and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta to the pot containing the Bolognese sauce (if you’ve made the Bolognese sauce in advance, rewarm it gently over low heat before adding the pasta) and stir to combine, adding some of the reserved pasta water to help the sauce cling to the pasta.

Transfer to a platter and garnish with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately.

Read our interview with Chef Matt Jennings.
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