2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 carrots finely diced
2 stalks celery) finely diced
2 garlic cloves, very finely diced
3 slices diced pancetta (1/4 to ½-inch cubes)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 # lean ground beef (I like the 96/4 variety)
1/2 cup white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio)
1 cup lowfat or nonfat milk
1 15-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, diced (you will use both the liquid as well as the tomatoes)
1/2 cup beef stock
Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic with a pinch of salt and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the pancetta and cook for a further 10 minutes, until vegetables are softened and pancetta is golden.
Increase the heat to high and , stirring and breaking lumps with a spoon between each addition. Adding the meat gradually allows the water to evaporate – which is key if you want to brown your meat and not boil it. After the last addition, when no pink can be spotted in the meat and no lumps remain, set a timer for 15 minutes. You want your meat to caramelize and even become crispy in spots. More water will evaporate and flavors will concentrate. You want golden bits of meat to stick to the bottom of your pan – this flavorful crust will then be deglazed with white wine. as you don’t want your meat to burn. When you see some caramelization happening, lower heat to medium to each the end of your 15-minute sautéing time (on my stove, that’s after about 8-9 minutes).
Over medium heat, pour the white wine into the sauce pan. With a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits stuck to the bottom and sides of your pan. Push the meat all around to make sure you scrape it all off. By the time you’re finished, the wine will be evaporated (2-3 minutes).
Add milk, diced tomatoes (with liquid), beef stock, another pinch of salt and a good grinding of pepper. Bring to a boil and then lower to the lowest heat and let simmer, half-covered, for 4 hours. Stir once in a while. If your sauce starts sticking before the end of your cooking time, add a bit of stock or water. In the end, the sauce should be thick, more beef than sauce based. Adjust the seasoning one last time, then stir into a drained bowl of cooked pasta and serve.
See also: Fresh Pasta