2009 January: The Meat is On

2009 January: The Meat is OnAs one of the basic staples of any Italian menu, a flavorful meat sauce makes the difference between an okay dish and a top seller. That’s why most operators don’t mind the time and effort it takes to make a savory meat sauce or a richer alternative, Bolognese.

Many recipes for Bolognese call for very little tomato content, focusing instead on beef, pancetta, meat stock, white wine and milk. A bit of tomato paste is added more as an accent than as a base for this sauce — a rich, tender meaty sauce that complements most types of pasta.

However, as with pizza, numerous variations for both meat and Bolognese sauces exist, allowing each pizzeria to come up with its own distinctive dishes.

Rocco Biale, owner of Rocco’s Ristorante Pizzeria in Walnut Creek, California, includes both types of meat sauces on his menu. His meat sauce starts with well-browned ground beef and Italian sausage, and includes high quality canned tomatoes. To prepare the Bolognese, the cooks add heavy cream to the meat sauce at the end of the cooking process.

“I’ve seen a lot of different versions of Bolognese,” says Biale, “but the cream based meat sauce is what we prefer. I like the lighter color, and the cream gives the sauce a little thinner consistency. Although the Bolognese sauce isn’t quite as hearty as the regular meat sauce, the Bolognese has a richer flavor. It’s my favorite, and it’s what I recommend when a customer can’t decide which sauce to order.

“In general, we haven’t noticed a dramatic change in our customers’ ordering habits recently. We’ve always had family friendly prices for our pasta dishes, ranging from $7 to $9, and customers consider them an economical choice. We also sell sauces by the pint and quart from the hot line. That way, customers can take one home and do what they want with it.”

At Luigi’s Pizzeria Restaurant in Stamford, Connecticut, customers also have a choice between a hearty meat sauce and a creamy Bolognese. Says manager Ryan Reed, “Both sauces have lots of beef, and we make them with a little extra olive oil to carry the fl avor better. We use chopped beef for a heartier texture and appearance. Besides serving it over al denté pasta, we use meat sauce in our lasagna, and serve it over gnocchi. We also offer pasta as a side with our entrées, and we serve it with the meat sauce on request.

“Our Bolognese starts with the same meat sauce. But we make it fresh for every order by adding heavy cream to a serving to fi nish it. Besides being served on pasta, the Bolognese is part of the recipe for some of our specials. Most customers are familiar with our regular meat sauce and the Bolognese, and they’re both pretty popular. But if a customer needs help, our servers are happy to explain the difference between the two sauces.”

At Villa Rosa Pizza, Pasta and More in Chicago, the meat sauce is so well regarded that owners Nancy and Carlos Beidleman have been approached by companies who want to package it and sell it in supermarkets. To the Beidlemans, that just confi rms that their emphasis on quality is the right way to go.

“We make our meat sauce from scratch in 15-quart batches every two or three days,” says Carlos. “Our cook starts it at 10 a.m., but the sauce doesn’t fi nish cooking until 7 or 8 p.m., because it’s slowly simmered to make sure the fl avors blend well. We chill the sauce, then take it out a little at a time to reheat it for orders. Keeping the sauce chilled until the following day or two allows the fl avors to mature, so the sauce tastes better than it would if we served it the night we made it.

“Because our marinara sauce is our most popular, we use it to fl avor the meat sauce. But we always start by cooking the meat and vegetables fi rst, then add the rest of the ingredients that we use in the marinara sauce. We don’t just add meat to the prepared marinara sauce, because we wouldn’t get the same great fl avor.

“We serve a lot of the meat sauce with the eight pastas on our menu. Our generous serving size, about 8 ounces of sauce over pasta, makes people say ‘wow’ when they see it. A lot of them leave with doggy bags and have it for lunch the next day. We sell our sauces separately in 16- and 32-ounce insulated containers, and we also get requests from people to use it on our meatball or the Italian beef sandwiches, even on pizzas once in a while. Although some people could be doing that to get more for their money, I think it’s more a matter of preference because they just like the way our meat sauce tastes.” ?

Creamy Meat Sauce

Yield: 8 quarts (about 42 servings)

½ cup olive oil

12 ounces minced onions

8 garlic cloves, minced

5 pounds coarsely ground lean chuck

5 pounds ground pork or veal

3 quarts tomato purée

1 quart beef stock

6 ounces tomato paste

¼ cup chopped fresh basil

¼ cup chopped fresh oregano

¼ cup chopped fresh thyme Salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 3 to 4 pints whipping cream

1. Heat olive oil. Add onions and garlic; sauté until onions are translucent.

2. Add ground meats; cook and stir until meat is lightly browned (do not overcook).

3. Stir in tomato purée, beef stock, tomato paste, basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer gently. Skim occasionally to degrease, if necessary. Continue simmering 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until sauce reaches desired consistency.

4. Heat whipping cream before blending into cooked sauce. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Gently reheat and hold on hot line.

Italian Meat Sauce

Yield: 10 quarts (about 60 servings)

2 cups olive oil

1 quart finely chopped onions

1 quart finely chopped celery

6 cloves garlic, crushed

8 pounds coarsely ground meat (combination of beef, veal, pork)

2¼ quarts beef stock

1 No. 10 can crushed plum tomatoes (or ground Italian tomatoes)

1 No. 10 can tomato purée

1 No. 2½ can tomato paste

2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

4 bay leaves

1 ounce sugar

Salt, to taste Black pepper, to taste

1. Heat olive oil. Add onions, celery and garlic; sauté until onions are translucent.

2. Add ground meat. Braise over low heat until lightly browned (do not overcook).

3. Stir in beef stock, plum tomatoes, tomato purée, tomato paste, basil, thyme, oregano, bay leaves and sugar. Reduce heat to low, and simmer gently. Skim occasionally to degrease, if necessary. Continue simmering 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until sauce reaches desired consistency.

4. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. If necessary, sauce can be thickened with a little cornstarch blended in water.

Cook’s Note: add mushrooms and green peppers to sauce, if desired.

Carol Meres Kroskey is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She has extensive knowledge covering the baking and food service industries for a variety of publications.

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