Quarter-Life Coaching: Chef Jennie on Browning and Bolognese

EVENT: Twin dishes for twins
VENUE: Phoebe ‘s Apartment, Flatiron
TYPE: Weekend experiment; executing the teachings of Chef Jennie
MENU: Jennie’s Tuscan Spaghetti Bolognese; Pappardelle with Lamb Bolognese; Spinach Fettuccine with Mushroom Bolognese; Shortbread Two Ways and Airy Chocolate Mousse (Cara)

Though we QLCs receive far more cries for help now than during the dark years (before the blog), we are always thrilled when the opportunity arises to get a little coaching ourselves. Some time back, Cara and I asked our old friend Jennie to share with us some key learnings from her stint at the French Culinary Institute that could help even those of us who’ve never cooked in professional kitchens.

Jennie graduated culinary school last fall, and though she’s now working long hours at an expensive restaurant uptown, we’ve still been lucky enough to benefit from her contributions to our high school potlucks. When we’ve all gotten together, Jennie’s dishes have remained as down-to-earth as her pre-professional offerings, if superior in composition: the vegetables in her peanut noodle salad are finely sliced on a mandolin, all perfectly crisp, thin, and even.

New kitchen contraptions aside, her greatest strength is in knowing how to please a crowd. And for the quarter-lifers, Jennie knows full well that this means pasta. Her recipe of choice for a casual dinner party: meaty pasta Bolognese. Below is Jennie’s authentic Tuscan Bolognese recipe, along with the original teachings (5 chef Jennie-isms that apply to the dish), straight
from the horse’s mouth. The two versions that follow—one using lamb, the other mushrooms—are my Mediterranean and vegetarian spins on Jennie’s technique.

I decided to make these two twin pasta dishes for, well, twins. My friends Mark and Dan have been two of my favorite eating partners and guests over the years, not only because it’s fun to confuse fellow guests who can’t tell them apart, but also because their identically large appetites ensure that no pot is left empty, and you can usually convince them to split the last four cupcakes so they are not left in my fridge to tempt me. Though I’m pretty sure serving the twins a rich meaty pasta was a guaranteed pathway to success, my results (no leftovers) prove Chef Jennie’s brilliance when it comes to theories on browning: her recipe provides a gateway for foolproof and creative versions of this Italian classic, simply by following her central guidelines.

From my kitchen, made better by the teachings of a quarter-life chef, to yours,

Phoebe (and Jennie), THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK(s)

**Tips and Tricks**

Though these tips and tricks were written to keep in mind while making the Bolognese, they
are not mutually exclusive to the particular meal at hand.

Top 5 Chef Jennie-isms for the BGSK Quarter-Life Cook:
1. Heavy on the salt. I think most would agree that probably around 90% of the time you go to someone’s house for dinner (a non-professional) and their food is flavorless, it’s because it lacks salt. Don’t be afraid. Obviously taste as you gradually add the salt. But again, do not be alarmed by how much you are using.

2. Brown bits, or sucs = flavor! If you’re making a stew or even cooking a steak stove top, you need to get your pan super hot (smoking) before you add your meat. Add the salt after you’re
done searing because salt brings out moisture.

3. Keep a garbage bowl for scraps. And no, I did not get that tip from Rachel Ray (ew). I learned that in school. Keeping your space clean is a necessity in a kitchen, especially if it’s small. Never work in a cluttered area. A clean area means a clean mind. This is especially important if you’re cooking for a large group of people.

4. Every kitchen should have one chef’s knife and a paring knife. Once you own a good knife that you feel comfortable with, don’t be afraid of it. It’s your pal. If you’re scared of it you are going to cut yourself. Think of your knife as an extension of your hand. Choke up on the handle so your thumb and index finger are touching the base of the knife itself.

5. When a recipe calls for parsley, always buy Italian flat leaf parsley. Curly parsley is used for decoration at Applebees. When buying parsley, don’t be confused with cilantro. Take a sniff and you’ll figure out the difference.


Tuscan Spaghetti Bolognese
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from Anne Burrell’s Pasta Bolognese

While I was studying in Florence, Italy I learned what I thought at the time to be a crazy way to make Pasta Bolognese. It consisted of mirepoix (finely chopped in a Cuisinart), ground meat, tomato paste, water, red wine, aromatics, and salt and pepper. That’s it. The reason why I felt it was strange was because there were no crushed or whole canned tomatoes. It was the most flavorful Bolognese I’ve ever had and the reason why is because you brown all the ingredients, including the mirepoix. Everything sticks to the bottom, but do not panic. All of those bits of flavor will be removed and become part of your sauce once you deglaze with the wine.

Ingredients 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion
2 large carrots
2 ribs celery
4-5 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp salt
2.5 pounds ground chuck or round (something pretty high in fat)
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups red wine
Water (lots of it)
2 bay leafs (fresh if available)
Small bunch of thyme (tied)
1 lb. spaghetti
flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish

In a food processor, pulse the onion, carrots, celery ribs, and garlic until it becomes a coarse paste. Coat a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil. Season the pureed veggies generously with salt, and slowly sauté over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Brown bits will begin to develop and stick to the bottom of the pan—this is a good thing.

Push the veggies to the side of the pan, and add the ground beef to the center. Season the meat generously with salt. Brown the beef (thoroughly), using your spatula to break the meat apart and allowing all the color to develop, about 15-20 minutes. It’s ok if the veggies brown more along with the meat.

Fold in the tomato paste and cook until well incorporated and the “paste” flavor has mellowed, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, making sure to scrap up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan—you want to make sure all that flavor becomes part of the sauce.

Add water to the pan until it is about 1 inch above the meat (if there is room, otherwise you will need to keep adding it in gradually as the sauce cooks down). Carefully stir in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and make sure they are submerged. Bring the sauce to a boil. Return heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours, and up to 4 (the more time it sits on the stove, the richer the sauce). As the water begins to evaporate, gradually add more. Stir every so often and taste for seasoning, adding more salt as necessary.

When you are almost finished with the cooking process on the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water very well–saltier than you’d think. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water before you drain it.

Remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pan to make room for the pasta. Toss the pasta to coat in the sauce. Add a little of the reserved pasta water to make it easier to toss, and cook together over a medium heat until the water is well integrated with the sauce.

NOTE: If you are using a fresh pappardelle or taglietelle you will only want to cook for a minute or so. If it is too fragile, toss the pasta with a little olive oil and top with a generous spoonful of the sauce on top (see my image above and below).

To serve, top the pasta with another spoonful of the reserved sauce, a handful of Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. If you are using an herb (I used mint below), add a few coarsely torn leaves for garnish.

Pappardelle with Lamb Bolognese

Makes 4 servings (plus some leftover sauce)

1 large onion
2 large carrots
2 ribs celery
4-5 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp salt
2.5 pounds ground lamb
2 cups tomato paste
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground red pepper flakes
3 cups red wine
Water (about 2-3 cups)
2 bay leafs (fresh if available)
Small bunch of thyme (tied)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 lb fresh pappardelle
grated parmesan for garnish

See above for basic instructions. When you add the tomato paste, also add the cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and red pepper flakes. When the sauce is almost finished, add ¼ cup of the mint. Use the rest for garnish along with the parmesan.

Spinach Fettuccine with Mushroom Bolognese
Makes 4 servings

1 large onion
2 large carrots
2 ribs celery
3 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp salt
2.5 pounds mixed mushrooms (portabella, cremini, button), finely chopped
1 cup tomato paste
½ tsp ground red pepper flakes
2 cups red wine
Water or Mushroom broth
2 bay leafs (fresh if available)
Small bunch of thyme (tied)
1 lb fresh spinach fettuccine

The browning process does not apply to the mushrooms as much as it does for meat. Regardless, they will take some time to sauté and soften. You want the end result to be equally as browned and caramelized.

Twin, curious. Twin, strange.
  • Sarah L

    love your tips jennie! when are you going to make me dinner again?

  • Jordana

    Great post! I can't wait to try these recipes. All three sound devine! http://menumaniac.blogspot.com

  • Sophie

    I spy my curl in that photo with Dan…

  • Cristina

    I'm a little confused, did Chef Jennie use Ann Burrell's bolognese recipe? I literally made it the other week and so the instructions on your blog rang familiar.


    just a heads-up . . .

  • Phoebe and Cara, The Quarter-Life Cooks

    Hi Cristina,

    Thank you so much for the call-out. We had no idea the recipe bore so much resemblance to another chef's words. We've rewritten the recipe and cited the original chef (in addition to Chef Jennie) who inspired it. Our sincerest apologies. We would never knowingly borrow someone else's work or ideas without proper acknowledgment.

    Phoebe and Cara

  • Annie

    I made the Tuscan Spaghetti Bolognese this evening for my honey’s birthday eve dinner and WOW!  It was so rich and delicious; my meat lover hubby (and super bolognese snob) was impressed indeed.  The only change I made was using tomato sauce instead of paste, but that was completely unintentional; it was only after I went hunting for the paste that I realize that I was out.  (I am *never* out of tomato paste, which was weird)

    I would like to say, however, that the recipes made WAY over than the four servings indicated, even when cooked down.  Hubby’s plate was flooded with the “1” serving and I found that 1/4 serving suited me just fine.  I think that the sauce would perfectly serve 8 people, or even 10.  Just my opinion.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the recipe.  We really enjoyed it and look forward to all the yummy Bolognese that we have stocked in our freezer.

  • Cecil

    So the Bolognese recipe is the exact same word for word as Anne Burrells. Who stole it from who?

    • http://www.biggirlssmallkitchen.com/ BGSK

      See the above comments – it was a problematic post but those should work it out for you.

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