Rigatoni Bolognese

Phoning It In Can Be Sexy

I seem to collect bolognese recipes like a bad habit – many are more complicated than this one and involve grinding your own meat and tomatoes, slow simmering for days, and babysitting the whole operation until it comes to a savory finish.  “The Big Sauce” as my Vo calls it.  And yet, this recipe manages to conjure up the same “cooked for days” taste with a whole lot less work.

The recipe calls for a few funny things – like baking the bolognese in the oven, simmering the sauce with parmesan rinds and then finishing the pasta off in the pan.  All of these steps will help turn your sauce into something extraordinary.

Rigatoni Bolognese

1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef
1 small onion
3 cloves of garlic
1/2 carrot
1 stalk of celery
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 pinch of crushed red pepper
1 pinch of white pepper
1 pinch of oregano (dried is fine)
1 tsp salt
1 c. of beef stock
1 large can of crushed tomatoes with basil (or 1 jar of marinara – anything but Prego or Ragu)
parmesan rinds (optional)

1 tbs. butter
1 lb. of rigatoni

Preheat oven to 375°.  Chuck the celery, carrot, onion and garlic into your food processor and pulse about 15-20 times for a small mince.  If you don’t have a food processor, mince your veggies.  Set aside.

Brown beef in a dutch oven (or large skillet if you don’t have one), stirring to break up any large chunks of meat. When beef is fully cooked, add veggies to the pot and cook until wilted and the garlic starts to smell fragrant.  Pour in beef stock and add the three kinds of pepper, salt and pinch of oregano.  Add tomatoes to pot and stir.  If you have any leftover rinds saved from parmesan cheese that you’ve used up, plunk these into the mix – they’ll add a unique depth of flavor to your sauce that you can’t get anywhere else.  If you don’t have parmesan rinds, no worries – just save them next time before chucking them out.  And if you are Donald Trump, you can lob off a thumb-sized hunk of cheese and throw it in there as well – I can’t afford such luxuries, but it works as well.

Put a lid on the pot (or foil the top – if you don’t have a dutch oven, pour mixture into a casserole dish and cover with foil).  Put the pot in the oven and leave to bake for 45 minutes.  If you used a skillet in the earlier steps, set it aside for later.

About 20 minutes before the sauce is finished, put a pot of heavily-salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water comes to a boil, add your rigatoni and cook until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before draining pasta.  Your sauce will probably need to come out of the oven before your pasta is finished – simply set it aside.  Your sauce knows how to play nice and wait for your pasta to finish its thing up.

Remove your sauce from the oven, and taste-check for salt and pepper.  When your pasta is cooked and drained, add it to a skillet along with 3/4 of your sauce and the tablespoon of butter.  Turn heat to medium-low and gently stir to coat all of the pasta with sauce.  If the sauce needs a little bit of coaxing, dribble a bit of pasta water in to the pan thin the bolognese and allow the sauce to adhere to the rigatoni.

Serve immediately with the additional sauce, parmesan shavings and copious amounts of vino.


  • After saucing the pasta, toss hand torn basil leaves into the mix for a little taste of summer.
  • Reconstitute some dried porcini in hot water and add to sauce before baking.  Use some of the porcini liquid when saucing the pasta instead of the cooking water.  The mushrooms will give the sauce an warm, earthy feel.
  • Add 1/2 cup of finely diced pancetta along with the ground beef for a meatier bolognese.