I have had a long love affair with Italian cooking. If you read My Paleo Story , you’ll know that I’ve been enamoured with Italian flavours and recipes since childhood. A bowl of penne pomodoro was the first dish I ever learned to cook by watching a chef on television. For a while after that, Italian food was all I ever cooked. I was convinced that the true test of any great chef was their bolognese sauce.
Bolognese is a flavourful meat sauce that originated in Bologna, Italy – as the name implies. If you ask anyone in Bologna who makes the best bolognese, the answer will undoubtedly be “my mother.” Or better yet, “my nonna” (grandma). The best bolognese I have ever eaten was at Locanda del Gallese, a tiny restaurant in an even tinier town called Biassa, just outside of Cinque Terre in the north west of Italy. My girlfriend and I stayed in Biassa while we were backpacking through western Europe in 2008. We wanted to hike the Cinque Terre coast and Biassa offered cheaper accommodations at Ostello Tramonti. As an aside, Biassa in general is a beautiful sleepy town that I highly recommend if you are looking for a more romantic destination that is off of the beaten, tourist path. It’s nestled in the hillside and offers some breathtaking views. Back to the food though, it wasn’t called a bolognese on the menu because we weren’t in Bologna. It was a ragu (same, same but different!) It was unlike anything I had ever eaten. It bursted with earthy notes from the fresh thyme that was added to the sauce. It was a deep, rich, red colour. The meat melted in your mouth. The dish was a pure triumph. It was heavenly! I have been trying to recreate it ever since. Sometimes I’ve come closer than others. You see, in Italy, recipes like bolognese are passed from generation to generation. What then, was a little boy from Toronto, raised by Russian immigrants with no idea of what bolognese even was, supposed to do when he wanted to learn the art of this classic Italian comfort food? Indeed, my babushka had also never even heard of bolognese the first time I made it for her and my grandpa.
I learned the same way I learned just about everything to do with cooking – I studied it from my idols on TV. I watched the great Italian chefs like Mario Battali, Lidia Bastianich, Michael Chiarrelo, and even the American king of everything “Ultimate,” Tyler Florence. I’ve experimented with so many different ways of making Bolognese and have spent the better part of my life trying to perfect it. It is nowhere near perfect! But it is really, really good. The recipe I show you here is a combination of years of trial-and-error, different influences, my personal travels, my Biassa memories, and a new found love of healthy, Paleo food. It’s packed with tons of deep, rich, delicious flavours that are always a favourite in my house. It’s super easy, healthy and not overcomplicated. This is a rustic, simple dish that will win over anyone, health-conscious or not!
Serve it with some zucchini noodles, or paleo gnocchi and rejoice in all of its Paleo Bolognese glory!
Give it a go and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Paleo Bolognese Recipe