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A make-ahead meal to make your holidays easier

Well folks, the season of giving is upon us. So, I’m suggesting you begin by giving yourself a gift. Prepping meals ahead and storing them in your freezer is an excellent way to relieve some holiday stress and that’s a gift we deserve.

This week I’m sharing my recipe for Big Batch Bolognese sauce. This slow cooked, creamy, rich, meaty sauce isn’t totally authentic but boy, it’s delicious. It’s made with ground beef, lots of veggies, tomatoes, wine, and milk. Yes, milk. Milk gives Bolognese its distinctive creaminess. I chose this recipe because it freezes beautifully and can be divided and used to make several different dishes. It can make pasta, lasagna, deep dish pizzas, baked potatoes, and my favorite – served over spaghetti squash.

Regarding the wine in this recipe, you can choose either light bodied red or dry white wine. Although you’d usually think of red wine in a meat sauce, Bolognese (ragú alla Bolognese) is such a staple of regional cooking in Emilia-Romagna that in 1982 the recipe was set in stone by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine) and it uses white wine. If you choose not to add wine, substitute beef broth.

This recipe calls for five pounds of ground beef, but you may need to adjust the quantity due to fat content. I use 85/15 beef, meaning there is a ratio of 85% lean meat to 15% fat. If you use 73/27, you’ll want to add one more pound to account for the rendered fat.

BIG BATCH BOLOGNESE SAUCE

Yield: 18-20 (1 cup) servings

What You’ll Need:

3 tablespoons olive oil

5 cups (two 12-ounce bags frozen or fresh equivalent) onion, finely chopped

2 cups (4 medium) carrots, finely chopped

1 ½ cups (3 ribs) celery, finely chopped

3 tablespoons butter

6 cloves garlic, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

5 pounds ground beef (85/15)

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1 (15-ounce) can tomato paste

2 cups red or white wine

2 (28-ounce) cans Italian style diced tomatoes

2 cups whole milk

3 bay leaves

1 cup grated parmesan cheese – plus more for serving

Chopped parsley for serving

Here’s How:

In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery, and sauté until softened and beginning to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the butter and garlic and sauté until fragrant. Lightly season with salt and pepper. We’re putting parmesan in later so go light on the salt now. Remove the veggies to a bowl and keep warm.

In the same pot, adjust heat to medium-high. Working in 3 to 4 batches so you don’t over crowd the pot, brown the beef, breaking it into small pieces and seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Remove each batch of cooked beef with a slotted spoon to a bowl and drain as much rendered fat as possible. You want the beef to caramelize and hopefully leave some browned bits (fond) in the pan.

After the last batch of beef, return the veggies and cooked beef to the pot. Add the Italian seasoning and tomato paste and stir to coat every morsel with tomato-y goodness. Let this cook, stirring occasionally for at least 5 minutes so the tomato paste can caramelize. This adds tremendous depth of flavor. Now, add the wine to deglaze the pot, scraping all the lovely, browned bits off the bottom of the pan. When most of the wine has evaporated, about 3 minutes, add the tomatoes, milk, and bay leaves. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a bare simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for at least 2 hours, preferably 4 hours. Longer is better!

To serve, remove bay leaves and add the parmesan cheese stirring to combine. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. This is best served with a wide pasta, like tagliatelle, or pappardelle but no one will complain if you use whatever you have on hand. Top with more parmesan and chopped parsley. Accompany with a glass of the wine you used (if you didn’t drink it all while waiting for the sauce to cook. Note to self, two bottles next time).

To freeze this sauce, the most important thing to do is cool it completely to refrigerator temperature before preparing it for freezing. Place appropriate serving sizes in zip-top freezer bags. For best flavor, use within three months but it’ll be safe to eat for up to a year.

While making this recipe takes some time, mostly hands off, once it’s done and waiting in the freezer, you can have a hearty, homemade dinner ready in the time it takes to boil pasta. There’s no better gift than that.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is the recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com

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