Chicken-Mushroom Bolognese

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Over the years, I’ve made Bolognese sauce almost exactly like the world famous Marcella Hazan’s recipe or just as Tyler Florence or Aida Mollenkamp thought it should be done and it’s always lovely any of those ways. Aida’s version (scroll down for info) is the one I’ve used for my lasagna for many moons and there’s nothing, nothing, nothing like it. (That recipe, more’s the pity, is no longer on the internet to my knowledge. Sad. Print your favorites, friends!) Even my sister, who doesn’t particularly like to cook, has made it. This time, I simply went ahead and fixed it just as I wanted to.  Which meant a little more tomato than Tyler and a lot more tomato than Marcella and, the biggie–I made it, ye gods and little fishes, with chicken, mushrooms, and bacon instead of with Aida’s (and many other cook’s) veal. Bolognese, the real deal, has just a little tomato and no herbs at all save parsley; it’s meat sauce with milk (I know–but you won’t taste it) and is served with a little sauce and a ton of pasta.  Like 1 cup of sauce to 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.  Nothing like Americans are used to.  Perhaps because we eat pasta as a main dish. Italians use pasta as a first course -primo–served between the antipasto and the secondo, which is a meat or fish dish or our main dish/entrée.  I like it sort of in between, but I do want a little more sauce and meat to the meal because I like it that way. Period. And this time? I wanted lot and lots of chicken. Chicken? Why chicken?

Where is Bologna, Italy?

Jump to Recipe

For a few years, I’ve been singing the praises of under-appreciated ground chicken and enjoyed finding new uses for this healthy and delicious meat. (Try my Chicken Meatloaf Marinara, Green Chile-Chicken Burgers, or my Tequila White Chicken Chili.) While a tad more expensive than ground turkey or even ground beef and ground pork, ground chicken provides a leaner profile but a much cleaner and more adaptable taste. While I wouldn’t say it’s a blank slate sort of protein, it is easier to move or at least nudge into the recipe outline you’re drawing. And if you’re watching fat or calorie intake, ground chicken is a wonderful alternative to the heavier ground meats. You might look at me and think I was thinking about fat and calories — you’re right, I often do — but that wasn’t the case for today’s recipe. As often is my modus operandi, there was a package of frozen ground chicken in the freezer calling my name. And I didn’t want my favorite meatloaf or chicken chili; I only wanted to make it into Bolognese sauce. So I did. And just to prove I wasn’t after a lo-cal pasta sauce, I added bacon because bacon and chicken–they’re great together. (Think chicken club or chicken cobb.) Add mushrooms è delizioso! (It’s delicious!)

This is the sauce at the very end of its one-hour cooking time, just before serving when you add the mushrooms and bacon back in to warm through.

There is nothing hard about making my American, chicken version of Bolognese sauce, but it takes a little time. Not much, but a little. Say an hour and a half. You cook some bacon and mushrooms (set them aside), chop and cook some veg, pour in a little wine that cooks down, add the chicken, tomatoes, and a bit later the tomato paste and milk–all before simmering for one hour. Then you have a free hour!

The key to cooking Bolognese–or anything, and I’m painting with such a broad brush here, is to build the flavors, seasoning as you go along. When you read the recipe, you’ll see you don’t add all the salt or pepper at once. It’s a bit at a time. The mushrooms get a sprinkle before you set them aside. The next salt melts with the cooking vegetables and helps them hold both flavor and liquid so they don’t dry out. The crushed red pepper is added here so it has time to hold its spice without overheating the sauce as it would at the end. You know how people sprinkle crushed red pepper on hot pizza? That’s heat. The third addition of salt makes the tomatoes taste good and helps to cut their acid along with a tish of granulated sugar, which you can leave out if it offends you. You don’t dump the cheese into the pot either, right? It’s sprinkled on right before serving for a salty finish and a bright garnish. Of course Parmigiano-Reggiano can be $25 a pound; you must use it so it makes the largest difference. Each moment of cooking, watching, adding, and tasting counts in the final picture. I’d say it’s a piece of art. Or maybe it’s artwork. Look at the photos to see a little more about the simple process and then you’ll be ready to try this:

Chicken-Mushroom Bolognese

Traditional Bolognese sauce is made with ground veal or beef, but I don’t see any reason not to swap in chicken and mushrooms for the meat; I like them. And just because I sneak in a little bacon, too, doesn’t mean you have to, but I think you’d really enjoy it. You’ll need only a good hour and a half to make this singular pot of goodness, less than half the time it takes to make the original beefy version. If you are making Bolognese for the first course of an Italian meal (primi), you will get 10-12 small servings. My inspiration for this version is from Aida Mollenkamp (whose Bolognese I use for my lasagna) and, of course, from Marcella Hazan, the queen of Italian cooking.
6 generous servings (doubles easily)

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 4 thick slices of bacon cut into ½-inch pieces (about 1/4 pound)
  • 4- ounces button mushrooms, sliced
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into small dice
  • 2 EACH: medium unpeeled carrots and stalks of celery, cut into small dice
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley, minced
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 4 large, plump cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 ¼ pounds ground chicken
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup (3¼ oz) Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving

Instructions

  • COOK BACON AND MUSHROOMS: Drizzle a tablespoon of oil into the bottom of a warmed Dutch oven or large, heavy pot; let warm through over medium heat. Add diced bacon and cook, stirring regularly, until well-browned. Remove bacon to a bowl, leaving fat in the pot. Toss in the mushrooms and cook, stirring once or twice, until well-browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spoon the mushrooms into the bowl with the bacon and set aside.
  • COOK THE VEGETABLES: Add another 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot and let warm through. Add the onion, carrots, celery, parsley, a ½ teaspoon EACH of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper and 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until softened (not browned), adding garlic for the last minute or so.
  • POUR IN THE RED WINE and cook for a few minutes until the wine is absorbed by the vegetables.
  • ADD THE GROUND CHICKEN to the pot, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, and cooking until no pink remains in the meat.
  • ADD THE TOMATOES and cook until bubbly. STIR IN THE TOMATO PASTE. Add another 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, ¾ teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, and the teaspoon of granulated sugar.
  • POUR IN THE MILK and stir well. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring regularly, for about an hour until thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot with grated cheese over long, flat ribbon-like pasta such as pappardelle or tagliatelle. Store sauce tightly covered in the refrigerator for 3 days or freeze for up to 4 months.

Notes

Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2022. All rights reserved.

WHICH PASTA???

If you go to all of the effort to make a wonderful Bolognese sauce, you might make your own pasta or buy fresh pasta –not spaghetti, it’s too skinny– at the local deli or market. You’ll need long, ribbon-like pasta for Bolognese–pappardelle or tagliatelle, etc. I’m fond of the DeCecco Egg Fettuccine 103, which my local regular grocery store carries. You can also order or buy some Cipriani’s Pappardelle or Seggiano Tagliatelle from amazon. Can’t find either of those? Buy the best dry fettuccine or linguine you can find (I do like De Cecco brand) and you’ll still be happy, I’m sure.

Both of these recommended purchased dried pastas cook in under 5 minutes, as do fresh pastas, so have everything else ready to go before you put the pasta into the boiling water. Other, regular dried pastas like fettuccine or linguine, will take closer to 10 minutes, but you still need the table set, get the salad made, etc. beforehand.

Do read more about it below under TIPS: About Getting this Meal to the Table…because you don’t want to eat cold pasta.

TIPS:

A simple salad of spinach, red onions, olives, peperoncini,and tomatoes with a vinaigrette is fine for a rich Bolognese meal.

About getting this meal to the table: The sauce, once put together, simmers for an hour. You then have time to set the table, open the wine, make a salad, slice the bread, and make the pasta IF you’re Johnny-on-the-Spot. If you’re NOT Johnny –and many of us aren’t– get your salad made and into the fridge, the bread sliced, and the table done before you begin cooking so all you have to do is the wine and the pasta at the end. Because the pasta cooks so quickly and must be fresh/hot when served, make sure the colander is in the sink, the salad and bread are on the table, and your guest(s)/family are seated when you drop the pasta into the boiling water. Eat the salad and bread with the pasta instead of beforehand or you run the risk of messing up the cooking of pasta. The salad can certainly go in the same large shallow bowl or plate as the pasta. Or, if you like warmed pasta bowls, use some chilled salad plates.

Learn how to cook (in Bologna): Technical amateur/Bologna Welcome

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese/EPICURIOUS

Tyler Florence Tagliatelle Bolognese Recipe/FOODNETWORK

While this isn’t Aida Mollenkamp’s Bolognese sauce I use for my lasagna (I can no longer find a link for it; it uses only veal for the meat), here is her current version, which sounds lovely: (Ragú all Bolognese) Classic Bolognese Sauce Recipe.

Alyce’s “I Did it My Way” Bolognese

If you want to grind your own chicken, cut a pound of boneless chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces and freeze them in a single layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper for 30 minutes. Place half of the chicken in your food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade, and pulse until the chicken is coarsely ground. Repeat with the other half of the meat. This can be done by hand with a great chef’s knife, too, if you prefer.

WINE AND DESSERT: WINE– Italian red wine is inexpensive and almost always tasty. (By the way, it’s nice with a grilled steak, too, and beats the price of a good CA Cab Sauv all to hell and back.) Choose a Chianti Classico that appeals to you (they have very attractive labels) or ask the the lady in the wine shop for her recommendation. If you don’t drink all of it, it’s cooking wine. It just, to my taste, doesn’t keep overnight. DESSERT– If you’re eating such rich pasta as a main course, dessert might not be much but biscotti and coffee (or Vin Santo!) or maybe some gelato or sorbet. Biscotti is easy and fun to make or you can buy it at COSTCO or order it from amazon. Maybe even skip that and just have a small grappa or limoncello after coffee.

Read up on Italy’s Apertivo and Digestivi–drinks that wet the appetite before a meal and enhance digestion afterward.

LIFE GOES ON:

A very sad loss in the cooking world this week, writer and cook Julie Powell (of the “Julie and Julia” movie fame) died way too young at the age of 49. Unbeknownst to her, she was one of my role model/mentors early in the food blogging world. Read this from Salon. Read this from Bon Appétit.

I have a few people in my life who, when faced with an upcoming birthday, ask me to make Abby Dodge Johnson’ Triple Chocolate Cheesecake. I’ve recently changed it from a Triple to a Double Chocolate and used a GF crust made from pecans, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and melted butter. Hopefully coming up soon on More Time at the Table. Who said you can’t do chocolate for Thanksgiving? Why do apples and pumpkins get all the glory?! Here’s to a chocolate November holiday!!

Snow coming here today. I hope you’re warm and getting your holiday menu planned! Thanks for stopping in to spend time in my kitchen; it keeps me smiling. Don’t wait to make this pasta sauce now that fall has arrived and, as always, don’t forget to…

Sing a new song,

Alyce

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