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Pappardelle with Rich Meat Sauce (Pasta alla Bolognese)

This rich, robust meat sauce is elegantly rustic. Add the pappardelle and the comfort factor is accentuated. The dish calls for a full-bodied, full-flavored red wine. Hearty Italian reds are especially sublime, but you'll have equal success with their counterparts from Spain or France or even muscular reds from the United States. Narrow lasagne noodles or wide fettuccine can be used in place of the pappardelle. Dependable: Nebbiolo blend from northwestern Italy. Daring: bold, dry Rosé from France, California, or Australia.

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
  • About 1 1/2 cups hot water, if using dried mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow or red onion
  • 2/3 cup peeled and finely chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 lb. ground beef or half beef and half pork
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups beef broth, heated
  • 1 to 2 cups heavy cream or milk (optional)
  • 1 lb. fresh pappardelle
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter (optional)
  • About 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

If using dried porcini, place in a bowl, add the hot water to cover and let soak until softened, about 1 hour. Remove the porcini, squeezing out the excess water, and chop finely. Line a small sieve with cheesecloth, place over a bowl and pour the soaking liquid through it. Set the mushrooms and liquid aside separately.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter with the oil. Add the onion, carrot and celery and sauté until lightly colored, about 15 minutes. Add the meat and cook, stirring often, until browned, about 10 minutes. Add the wine and cook until evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, then add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, broth and the porcini and strained soaking liquid, if using. Bring to a boil, cover partially, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the flavors are fully blended, about 2 hours.

Taste and adjust the seasonings. If desired, add the cream or milk to round out the flavor, pouring it in slowly until the sauce has a pleasant richness.

Just before serving, bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil. Add the pappardelle, stir well and cook until al dente (tender, but firm to the bite), 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to a warmed bowl.

Add the sauce to the pasta and toss well. Divide among warmed individual plates. If you have not added the cream or milk, you can top each portion with 1 Tbs. of the butter, if desired. Pass the Parmesan cheese at the table.
Serves 4
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Food & Wine Pairing, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 1999).