1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
2 carrots, peeled and chopped, about 1 cup
2-3 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped, about 1 cup
2 Tbsp shio koji (optional but adds great flavor and aids browning)
1 pound ground sirloin (you can use a fattier cut also the sauce will just be fattier)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp water
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup high-acid dry white wine (Northern Italy, Germany, France, NZ etc.)
2 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 (6-ounce) can of tomato paste
2 cups cooked soffritto
1 pound dry pasta (I like an egg-based noodle like pappardelle or the pictured garganelli)
1 (12-ounce) can of evaporated milk
Optionally, 2 Tbsp butter
Optional but great, fresh ricotta
Optional but great, grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Sauce & Pasta
Make the Soffritto & Prep the Beef
Finely chop the veggies using either a food processor or knife. They do not have to be perfectly even, just eliminate any large chunks. Mix the shio koji with the veggies and set aside. This is an optional ingredient but the salt, sugar, and enzymes add a lot of flavor and aid in browning the vegetables. If not using shio koji substitute a couple pinches of salt.
In a bowl mix the ground beef, baking soda, salt, and water, and set aside. The baking soda will raise the pH and make the beef more tender when cooked, this technique also works great when making chili.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or straight sided sauté pan over medium-low heat and add the vegetables. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until very soft and lightly golden brown, about 30 minutes.*
Make the Sauce & Prep the Pasta
Start heating 4 quarts of water, 2 tablespoons of sea salt (or 4 tablespoons of flaky kosher salt), and 2 bay leaves in a large covered pot. Adding the bay leaves to the cooking water rather than the sauce allows you to extract more flavor from them, since the sauce cooks so quickly.
Mix the gelatin, spices, and wine together and stir well.
Add the tomato paste and wine with spices and gelatin to your soffritto (you can keep it in the same pan you cooked it in if it's large, otherwise transfer to a pot). Stir over medium heat until everything is well mixed and hot throughout, about 5 minutes.
Add your pasta to the boiling water.
Add the beef and evaporated milk to the saucepan and mix well, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes (this should be about as long as it takes to cook the pasta). You will be left with a fairly thick sauce.
When the pasta is done to your tastes, reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain, discarding the bay leaves.
Plate & Serve
Optionally stir 2 tablespoons of butter into the sauce. This will make a richer and creamier pasta sauce, similar to mounting a pan sauce at the end of cooking.
Mix the drained pasta and sauce together and add pasta water as needed until you form a creamy sauce that coats the pasta well.
Plate in individual bowls and top with a scoop of fresh ricotta and grated parmigiano, if desired.
*The soffritto quantity makes about enough for the sauce, but feel free to double or triple and freeze any extra, it's very useful for adding flavor to soup, sauces, and stews. Soffritto is very similar to mirepoix. The difference is that the vegetables are cooked to a darker shade (in mirepoix you avoid any browning), and only olive oil is used, not butter. This makes it a very useful thing for adding flavor and body to vegan preparations, more-so if you add the shio koji.
• This recipe serves 4-6, if you're cooking for fewer people halve the pasta and reserve half of the sauce (it keeps for about a week in the fridge, or for a couple months frozen).
Variations & Ideas
• To simplify the spicing, you can use 1 1/2 teaspoons of finely ground Pierre Poivre in place of the black pepper and nutmeg. Pierre has a bit more sweetness and complexity overall.
• If you keep dairy-free you can cook down any non-dairy milk you prefer until thickened (reduced by more than half), and substitute this for the evaporated milk. Coconut milk is a bit strong with this prep, but see an idea below.
• A couple other flavors to try:
- substitute ground lamb for the beef and 2 teaspoons of Tangier N.23 for the spices, add a handful of currant raisins and pine nuts when cooking the soffritto
- substitute ground pork or chicken for the beef, 2 teaspoons of Penang N31 for the spices, and 6 ounces of unsweetened coconut cream for the evaporated milk, garnish with a basil chiffonade and crispy onions
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