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Bolognese has always been a comfort food for me. I remember the first time my mom made it and I was fascinated by the cooking method. How the wine and milk both evaporated completely and didn't curdle seemed like pure magic. I usually make a big batch every fall with whatever ground meat is in the freezer that year (this year, I chose pronghorn antelope).
The sweet, rich aroma fills my house and takes me right back to my mom's kitchen. The evaporated wine and milk give this sauce a silky richness that you won't find in your average spaghetti sauce. I like to triple the batch and freeze dinner-sized portions in quart zippered bags to be enjoyed all winter long. Life can get a little crazy around here and it's always nice to have fast dinner options available.
I used to not pay much attention to the canned tomatoes I was buying. I recently started using Colavita diced tomatoes and they make a world of difference by providing that fresh, garden tomato flavor that's hard to find in store-bought canned tomatoes. Using quality ingredients really elevates the flavor of this sauce. Bolognese isn't supposed to be a tomato-heavy sauce, but I like to add a little extra because these ones are so good.
Bolognese is packed full of veggies but you don't really notice them when you're eating it. The long cooking process makes them so tender, they kind of melt into the sauce. I won't pretend like I have exceptional knife skills because I definitely don't, but I do try my best to chop the veggies into tiny pieces so they cook into the sauce better. Bonus: if you have a picky eater, this is a great way to sneak some veggies into your meal. My little guy is pretty good about eating his veggies anyways, but this is definitely one of his favorite meals. He eats a man-sized portion every time!
Most wild game doesn't have a lot of fat, so I like to render some pancetta (or bacon) and cook the vegetables in the fat to add some richness to the sauce. I also find that I don't have to add much salt with this method. You really can't go wrong with a little pork fat in your life.
It's important to use quality ingredients but the most important ingredient here is time. Making bolognese is usually an all day process for me. Evaporating the wine and milk each take around 30 minutes. It's not a very pretty process at this point, but the flavor more than makes up for it. Once all the ingredients are added, I simmer it on very low heat for 4-6 hours. You can use any old pot to make bolognese but I like to use my dutch oven because it holds heat so well. Plus, food feels infinitely more comforting when it's cooked in a dutch oven, am I right?
Sometimes the sauce reduces a little too much so I add in a little water to bring the moisture level back up. I also like to add about ⅓ cup of the pasta water just before serving. This makes it a little more saucy and helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
I made homemade tagliatelle for this recipe, but you can certainly use your favorite pasta and I'm sure it will be delicious! Finish your bowl with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil for a perfect balance of flavors.
Pronghorn Bolognese Sauce
- 4 oz pancetta (or bacon), diced
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 1 cup carrots, finely diced
- ½ cup celery, finely diced
- 1 lb ground antelope
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 boxes Colavita diced tomatoes (or 2 14.5 oz cans)
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 parmesan rind (optional)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- olive oil, as needed
- 1 lb dry pasta, or 1 batch of my basic pasta recipe
- fresh basil, for garnish
- freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta to pan and cook until fat has rendered and pancetta is crisp. Remove pancetta from pan and set aside.
- Turn heat down to low. Add onion, garlic, carrots, and celery to pan. Cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Don't allow the vegetables to brown.
- Add ground meat to pan. Season with salt and pepper. Break up the chunks and cook until meat is browned. Add cooked pancetta back to pan.
- Add the wine to the pan. Cook until the wine has evaporated, stirring frequently.
- Add milk to the pan. Cook until the milk has evaporated, stirring frequently.
- Add in tomatoes, tomato paste, and parmesan rind. Simmer on very low heat for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally. If the sauce starts to get dry, add in some water and it will evaporate eventually.
- Cook pasta according to package or recipe directions. Reserve ⅓ cup pasta water. Stir reserved pasta water into bolognese. Drain pasta and toss with sauce. Top with fresh basil and parmesan cheese.