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Bolognese never goes out of style

Many meat sauces go in and out of fashion over the years, but Bolognese (sugo) is a staple in Italian cooking. I remember my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother cooking the same sauce, filling the kitchen with wonderful smells. The difference between today's recipe and that of the older generations is the intense preparation required in the old days.

I clearly remember going with my great-grandmother to the butcher shop to "feel" the live chickens before the butcher took them in the back room to "dress" them. They also made their own sausage and grew everything they needed for the recipe.

The gardens on our land were quite large, one being for flowers, the other for herbs and the largest for veggies. These gardens were well thought out and planted so that many of the vegetables ripened in stages. There was also a very old but sturdy greenhouse at the edge of the land where much of the plant life was started. The southern exposed part of the land was reserved for the olive trees, a few grape vines and a very large, healthy lemon tree. At the west end there stood a large barbecue made of red brick and large cast iron doors. On it lay massive grills and a chimney. The ancestral home was quite a place and held many fun family gatherings.

Here is the family recipe that's been handed down for generations:

Olive oil, for sauteing

1/2 yellow onion, peeled and finely diced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced

1 small carrot, finely diced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon rosemary

1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper

1 pound low-fat ground sirloin

4 bone-in, skinless chicken thighs

1/2 pound pork sausage links, sliced 1/8 inch thick

1/2 cup dry, white wine

1/2 cup 1-percent milk

2 ripe tomatoes when in season, diced (optional; may substitute 15 ounces canned tomatoes)

1 quart prepared tomato sauce

Coat bottom of a large skillet with the olive oil and put on medium heat. When hot, toss the onion, garlic and carrot in with the cumin and rosemary and heat gently. Do not brown. Add the black pepper at this time. Stir continuously, being careful not to let anything stick. After 5 minutes, toss in all the meat. Turn up heat and brown meat well. This is key. Brown by using high heat and stirring quickly. Meat should be almost sticky brown with some residue on the bottom of the pot. I like using a flat, wooden spoon for this work.

When meat is well-browned, toss in the wine and let it bubble until dehydrated, then pour in the milk and do the same. When all has bubbled away, add the tomatoes. I use Pomi from Naples, which you can find boxed in most stores. I also cut up a couple of rich, ripe tomatoes when in season. The key to this sauce is also knowing how thick you want it to be. Leaving the lid off the pot thickens the sauce. Drop heat to a low simmer for 4 hours.

Be careful not to allow too much sodium in the sauce. I use low- or no-salt tomato sauce. I have seen many of these sauces ruined because too much salt muted all of the other flavors in cooking.

Many Bolognese sauces ask for red wine, but I think you might be taking a chance with the oak in these wines. As the sauce simmers down, any oak in the wine will come up to the palate. I prefer pinot grigio for this sauce.

Using any pasta for Bolognese is OK, but generally a thicker pasta, such as rigatoni or penne, is the ticket. One can also use polenta or gnocchi if they wish. Be sure that you do not overcook any of these as nothing is worse than soft pasta with rich meat sauces. Lastly, but equally important: Serve with any Italian red such as sangiovese, dolcetto, nebbiolo or barbera. The sauce serves four.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at razz49@aol.com.