This is a classic Italian meat sauce, or Bolognese, and my family and friends say it is the best meat sauce they have ever eaten… ever. It’s not a lot of work but does require you to be home for 3 hours, because it needs to get stirred every 30 minutes or so. (This sauce can be stopped and started again if you need to leave, so just turn off the heat and turn it back on when you return.) I will be posting my Weekday Meat Sauce soon, which only takes half an hour and is delicious, but does not have the same amazing depth of flavor.
I’ve steered clear of pasta sauces since going low carb, because what do you put them on? There are plenty of gluten free pastas that taste okay, but nothing that I’m aware of that’s also low carb and I’d want to eat. A few weeks ago we were at our wonderful Sunday farmer’s market in my little town of Kailua. There I saw these beautiful baby eggplant and thought ah ha!
We all know how good eggplant tastes with tomato sauce, so why not use it as a bed for my favorite meat sauce? Roasted eggplant cubes are a flavorful and wonderful accompaniment to this hearty dish. We thought this was just delicious! You can, of course, use regular globe eggplant in place of the baby eggplant.
Since it does take more time than my usual dishes, I always double this recipe because it freezes perfectly. I love having a “free” dinner chip of this rich sauce mid-week. This recipe is adapted from the wonderful Italian cook Marcella Hazan. I’ve significantly increased the amount of vegetables in it to make it more healthful. In addition to the usual trio of chopped onions, carrots, and celery, I’ve added chopped Swiss chard stems. These are very good for you, increase the complexity of the flavor and melt into the sauce so you don’t even know they are there.
Here are a few things to know. Milk is added to the meat and vegetables and allowed to boil off (yes it seemed weird to me too at first). Why? It adds a layer of rich flavor and counteracts the acidity of the white wine that is added next. Use a pot with a thick bottom so that the sauce will not burn easily. Cook at the slowest possible simmer, meaning that bubbles break to the surface intermittently. And, remember to stir it so that it doesn’t burn – less frequently at first and more often as it thickens.
This wonderful, vegetable rich, meat sauce is deep, flavorful and well worth the extra effort.
- For the Sauce:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter (may omit and use olive oil)
- 2 cups chopped onion, about 1 large onion
- 2 large celery stalks, chopped
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 1 bunch Swiss chard stems cut into 1/4" thick pieces, about 3/4 - 1 cup
- 1 pound ground beef chuck
- black pepper
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 42 ounces (1 28 oz. can plus 1 14 oz. can) chopped tomatoes with their juice, pulsed a few times in a food processor or squished with your hands to create finer pieces
- For the Eggplant:
- 2 medium Italian eggplant (globe, purple type), or the equivalent in baby eggplant, unpeeled and cut into about 1 inch cubes
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- Cook the Sauce:
- Put oil, butter and chopped onion in a large pot. Turn the heat to medium and cook until onion has become translucent. Stir in the celery, carrot, and Swiss chard stems. Cook for about 3 minutes, until vegetables have softened a bit.
- Add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Cook, crumbling meat with the back of a spoon, until the beef has lost it's raw red color.
- Add the milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until the milk has evaporated. Add the nutmeg and stir. Add the wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated.
- Add the tomatoes and stir to mix well. Bring to a boil and turn heat down so that the sauce cooks at the barest simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 2 1/2 - 3 hours, stirring from time to time to make sure that the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. If the sauce thickens too soon and starts to stick to the pot, add a little water. When done, the fat should have separated from the sauce, very little liquid should remain, and it should be nice and thick. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir to combine fat and sauce before serving. Serve on a bed of roasted eggplant for a delicious low-carb alternative:
- Cook the Eggplant:
- Roast the eggplant while the sauce is cooking. Place oven rack in upper middle of oven and preheat oven to 400°.
- Place eggplant cubes on a large baking sheet, drizzle with oil, and toss to coat (I use my hands). Sprinkle with salt. Bake, without stirring or turning, for about 30-35 minutes, or until eggplant feel soft when pierced with a fork.
- Serve warm with meat sauce and grated Parmesan cheese on top.