How to Make Excellent Pizza at Home {Full Photo Tutorial}

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeI have made eleven pizzas since Saturday night. Eleven.

That’s seven batches of dough, five pounds of four different flours, a container of Pomi strained tomatoes, four pounds of mozzarella, and a bunch of basil. Whew.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeNo, I did not eat eleven whole pizzas. Not even close. I tasted eight of them, gave a lot to my roommates, fed two to the family I work for, and deposited three directly into the trash. You see, I was on a mission. I wanted to see if I could make restaurant-quality pizza at home–without a stone, peel, or an oven that reaches 1000F.

I don’t think I’ll be putting Di Fara out of business anytime soon, but yes, I can in fact make a high quality pizza in my home oven. And now, so can you.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeNow, I’m sure many of you have made pizza–probably very good pizza–at home. I have too, but it was never anything like the pizza I want when I go out with friends. Where their pizzas are paper thin, delicate, and charred to perfection, mine have traditionally been thick and bready, with a yeasty flavor and pale crust. I’m not saying those pizzas were tough to eat; I’m just saying that, after this past weekend, I don’t think I’ll spend so much time daydreaming about the pizzeria six blocks away.

So, how do I make quality pizza in an apartment oven that barely reaches 500F? Well, it’s simpler than I ever imagined it could be.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeFirst things first–every great pizza starts with great dough. Mine is simple to make, doesn’t require any unusual flours, and comes together quickly. Just whisk together flour, instant yeast, sugar, and salt, then stir in water and olive oil until a shaggy dough forms. I find this easiest to do with my hand, but I’m sure a silicone spatula works too.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeOnce the dough is formed, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes. Then knead it on a floured surface until smooth, about seven minutes. That’s fun for me–I love to knead. If kneading is not your favorite task, you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Just let it run on low for seven minutes.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeUse a sharp knife to divide the kneaded dough into two pieces. Form them into balls, place them on a floured baking sheet, and brush them with olive oil. Cover them with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour. The dough will expand into two large, thick discs.

Now it’s time to make the pizzas. Before you do anything else, preheat your oven to 500F. It needs to heat for at least an hour–it should be screaming hot. If you have an in-oven broiler, place a rack about six inches away from the heating element.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeTake one disc of dough, lifting it with the tops of your hands. Let gravity stretch it while you slowly move your hands in a circular fashion. The dough is very delicate and will stretch in a minute or so. Gently lay the stretched dough on a floured baking sheet, shaping it as necessary. Pinch the edges lightly to form a crust. Repeat this process with the other disc of dough.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeNext, top the pizzas. Today’s recipe is for a classic Pizza Margherita, topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. I like to use Pomi strained tomatoes for my sauce, but use any sauce you like. Spread it around each pizza crust, leaving the pinched border bare. Top them with torn fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeBaking the pizzas is a two step process and neither is what you might expect. Instead of being baked on a rack, the pizzas are baked in their pans on the oven floor. Yes, the oven floor. This is the poor (wo)man’s way of getting a crisp bottom crust without having to work with (or even own) a pizza stone. Bake the pizzas for about seven minutes–when you take them out of the oven, lift the edges with a spatula to make sure the bottom crust has some good color.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeNext up, broil the pizzas. I know this sounds drastic, but a 500F oven will never give you the blistered cheese and singed crust that the broiler will. This is a quick process; it usually takes me 2 1/2-3 minutes. This step will give the pizzas a sort of charred flavor, not unlike those at your favorite coal oven pizzeria.How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeHow to Make Excellent Pizza at Home

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeOnce the pizzas are to your liking, remove them from the broiler. Top them immediately with some grated Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, and some torn fresh basil. Let them cool for a few minutes before transferring them to cutting boards and slicing them up.

How to Make Excellent Pizza at HomeThese pizzas, y’all. They’re thin and delicate, but have a good crisp edge and chewy crusts. Oh, and the flavors. It goes without saying that the combination of tomato, mozzarella, and basil is an unbeatable classic, and the slight char from the broiling step brings it over the top. You won’t be able to stop at just one slice!

And that, my friends, is how you make pizza reminiscent of your favorite pizzeria at home. All you need is a little dough, a few toppings, some time, and eleven test-pizzas worth of ingenuity.How to Make Excellent Pizza at Home

Pizza Dough
makes enough for 2 12-inch pizzas

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (instructions for regular yeast below)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for brushing
1 cup lukewarm tap water

In a medium-large mixing bowl, stir together flour, instant yeast, sugar, and salt. Add olive oil and water. Mix with your hand or a silicone spatula just until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.

Flour a surface and your hands. Turn dough onto the surface and knead until smooth, about 7 minutes. Form dough into a ball. Divide dough ball into two pieces and form those into balls. Heavily flour a rimmed baking sheet (or two dinner plates). Place dough balls in opposite corners and brush any exposed dough with olive oil. Wrap pan in plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free environment for 60-70 minutes, until doubled in size. Proceed with pizza-making.

Notes:

You may also use regular active dry yeast, but the recipe needs a few adjustments. All volumes stay the same. Start by dissolving sugar and yeast into the lukewarm tap water. Let sit 5-10 minutes, until yeast bubbles (proofs). If your yeast does not bubble, it is dead–start the recipe again with new yeast. In a medium-large mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add olive oil and yeast mixture. Use your hand or a silicone spatula to mix until just combined. Cover bowl and let sit for 15 minutes. Proceed with recipe as written, keeping in mind that the rise might take up to 90 minutes.

Pizza Margherita
makes 2 12-inch pizzas, enough for 4-6 adults

1 batch Pizza Dough (2 dough balls)
6-8 tablespoons strained tomatoes, tomato purée, or other sauce, divided
8-12 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces, divided
olive oil, for drizzling
grated Parmesan cheese
fresh basil leaves, torn

If you have an in-oven broiler, place one rack about 6 inches from the heating element. Preheat oven to 500F for at least one hour–the entire oven needs to be very hot.

Flour 2 rimmed baking sheets, tapping out any excess.

Flour your hands. Working with one ball of risen pizza dough at a time, place your hands (palms down) underneath the dough, lifting it from the pan it rose on. Let dough stretch with gravity, moving your hands slowly in a circular motion to allow for even stretching. Gently place dough on one of the prepared pans. Stretch further with your fingertips until the desired shape is reached. Pinch the edges to form a crust. Set aside while you stretch and shape the other ball of dough.

Working with one pizza at a time, pour 3-4 tablespoons of sauce in the center. Use a spoon or ladle to spread the sauce in a circular motion, leaving blank space at the edge. Scatter torn mozzarella over the top. Drizzle with olive oil. Set aside while you top the other pizza.

Working with one pizza at a time, bake pizza (in the lightly-floured pan) for 6-8 minutes on the floor of your oven. Remove from oven. Lift edges with a spatula to ensure bottom crust is browned. If it isn’t, bake for an additional 1-2 minutes, checking bottom crust after each minute. Repeat process with other pizza.

If you do not have an in-oven broiler, turn off oven and heat broiler for 5-10 minutes, until very hot. If you do have an in-oven broiler, turn it on and proceed immediately.

Broil each pizza 1-4 minutes, until crust and cheese are bubbly and a bit charred. Check pizzas after each minute, and every 30-45 seconds after the 2 minute mark. My pizzas broil in 2 1/2-3 minutes. I like to rotate the pans after 1 1/2 minutes for even browning. Let pizzas cool for five minutes in their pans.

Remove to cutting board(s). Top with grated Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil, and torn fresh basil. Slice with a sharp chef’s knife (or pizza cutter) and serve. Wrap any leftovers in foil and store in the refrigerator.

Steak Fajitas

Steak FajitasHello! I am taking a break from an absolutely insane week to bring you one of my favorite dinners ever–Steak Fajitas!

Steak FajitasAs you know by now, I was raised in Texas. Naturally, Tex-Mex is my love language. And while I live for enchiladas, fajitas are the real way to my heart. Yep.

Until a few years ago, I thought of fajitas as a restaurant-only meal. It’s easy to understand, given that I had only ever seen them served in a blistering hot cast iron pan. Something about all that presentation (which occasionally included fire) made fajitas seem far beyond my abilities. That’s ridiculous, of course. Fajitas are just meat, peppers, and onions that have been cooked in a screaming-hot pan. That’s literally the whole process, aside from heating some tortillas and arranging some toppings. You don’t even have to make guacamole and salsa if you don’t feel like it.

You totally should though. Homemade guacamole and salsa beat the pants off anything you can buy.Steak FajitasSo, how exactly do you make Steak Fajitas at home? Well, it all starts with the marinade. Mine involves soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, cilantro, lime, and plenty of spices–loads of flavor here! Mix the marinade, pour it in a bag, and add two pounds of flank steak. Seal the bag and then let the meat sit at room temperature for an hour.

Next, slice up a large onion and some bell peppers. That won’t take the whole hour, so make the guacamole and salsa (seriously, do it), shred some cheese, chop some cilantro, and take the remaining half hour to needlessly surf the Internet or teach yourself how to do calligraphy or something.

Steak FajitasWhen the hour is up, cook the steaks as desired. These are cooked to medium, but make yours to your liking. Then, let them rest while you cook the peppers and onions. Slice the steaks and transfer everything to a serving dish. Warm some tortillas and serve with all those garnishes. Your family and friends will love being able to customize this meal to their liking!

Steak FajitasSteak FajitasY’all, these Steak Fajitas are crazy good. The steak is super flavorful from the marinade, and the vegetables are the perfect accompaniment. Piled into a warm flour tortilla and topped with all sorts of goodness, these fajitas are great for weeknights and summertime dinner parties alike! The only way to improve upon this meal is to make Churros for dessert 😊Steak Fajitas

Steak Fajitas
makes about 6 servings

Marinade:
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground chile powder (I used ancho)
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (optional)
2 limes, sliced into half-moons
1 jalapeño, stem removed, sliced in half

Fajitas:
2 pounds flank steak (I had 2 steaks)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1-2 sweet bell peppers, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

For serving:
1-2 dozen small flour tortillas, warmed
guacamole
salsa
shredded cheese
sour cream
chopped cilantro

Marinate the steak. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, cilantro, cumin, chile powder, and cayenne. Pour mixture into a gallon zip-top bag, and drop in lime slices and jalapeño. Add steak to bag. Squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing. Set full bag in a bowl (in case of leaks) and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour (or up to 2 hours in the refrigerator). Remove steak from bag and blot with paper towels. Discard marinade.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Working in batches (if necessary) cook each steak 3-4 minutes per side for medium, or longer, depending on your preferences. Remove to a rimmed sheet pan and tent with foil.

Turn heat down to medium. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, if necessary. Add onions and peppers to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until soft (about 10 minutes). Remove to a serving dish.

Remove steak to a cutting board. Working against the grain, cut the steak into thin slices. Transfer to a serving dish.

Serve fajitas with warm flour tortillas, guacamole, salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or cilantro, if desired.

Fajitas will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Beef & Chorizo Chili

Beef & Chorizo ChiliAs I’ve mentioned many times, I do not care for football. Bores me to tears. Please don’t make me watch it.

All that said, yes, I do want to come to your Super Bowl party. I have no idea who’s playing whom (nor do I care), but I am very much interested in what snacks you’ll be serving. Oh yes, I love game day food. Chips, guacamole, salsa, buffalo chicken, weirdly delicious Double Chocolate Fritos Cookies–whatever you’ve got on the buffet table, I. am. interested.

Beef & Chorizo ChiliChili is arguably the ultimate game day food. Spicy, meaty, and good with just about anything (especially this Southern-Style Cornbread), it’s a total crowd pleaser. Chili can be made a million different ways, but this version, made with beef and chorizo, is my favorite. It came to be on a fridge-cleaning night three years ago, and its combination of unusual ingredients really make it something special. In this chili, you’ll find:

  • Mushrooms. Here they provide a little nutrition and also infuse the chili with their meaty umami flavor, just like they do in my Bolognese. Have mushroom haters in your family? Don’t fret–they’re diced small here and browned to the point that they blend in with everything else.
  • Cocoa Powder. It’s used as part of the spice blend in this chili, along with the usual cumin, chili powder, oregano, and cayenne. This small dose of cocoa will not make your finished product taste like chocolate–it’s just there for a little depth.
  • Soy Sauce. Like the mushrooms, the soy sauce is here for its umami flavor. It’s also here to even out the flavor, and precludes the need for any extra seasoning.

Beef & Chorizo ChiliThose ingredients might sound strange, but when they come together with the beef, chorizo, and aromatics, they make some seriously amazing chili. One thing you won’t find in this recipe? Beans. They’re not traditionally a part of chili (in my native Texas, at least). I won’t tell anybody if you add a can or two of drained, rinsed pinto beans though. I am all for anything that keeps me from having to make a side dish.

Beef & Chorizo ChiliLooking for more game day food? Check out my Guacamole, Restaurant-Style Salsa, Artichoke Dip, Buffalo Chicken Biscuits, and Ultimate Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownies!

Beef & Chorizo Chili
serves 4-6

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound fresh raw chorizo, removed from casings
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, diced small
1 large white onion, diced small
1 red bell pepper, diced small
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
2 chipotles in adobo, minced + 1 Tbsp of the sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 cups + 2 Tbsp water, divided
1 Tbsp corn meal
grated cheddar cheese, for serving

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown beef and chorizo, breaking them up as necessary, until very brown (about 20 minutes). Remove the meat to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving two tablespoons of fat in the pan.

Add mushrooms to the pan and brown, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Do not burn. Remove to a plate.

Add onion and red bell pepper to the pot and brown for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute or until fragrant.

Reduce heat to medium. Return meat and mushrooms to the pot. Stir in cumin, chili powder, oregano, cocoa powder, and cayenne. Add tomato paste and stir to coat. Allow everything to cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add beef broth. Bring the pot to a boil before reducing the heat. Allow chili to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir occasionally.

Add chipotle adobo sauce, soy sauce, and 2 cups of water. Allow chili to continue simmering until liquid has reduced by half, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornmeal and 2 tablespoons of water. Once chili has reduced, stir in cornmeal mixture and cook for an additional five minutes, until thickened slightly. Remove pot from heat.

Serve chili in shallow bowls. Top with grated cheddar cheese, if desired. Leftover chili will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Southern-Style Cornbread & Chipotle-Lime Honey Butter

Southern-Style Cornbread & Chipotle-Lime Honey Butter99% of the time, I’m a biscuit kind of person. You’re making eggs? Great! I’ll make biscuits. Soup for dinner? Let me slap some biscuits together for you! It’s literally any hour of the day or night? Fantastic–let’s have biscuits.

Yes, biscuits are my answer to just about everything. But there’s something about snow that makes me want cornbread. Even the light dusting we had yesterday–it just screams cornbread to me. Where others might grab bread and milk when they are preparing to hunker down, I grab a pound of cornmeal.

Southern-Style Cornbread & Chipotle-Lime Honey ButterNow, there are two kinds of cornbread. In the north, cornbread is cakey and sweet. That’s all fine and good, but when I want cornbread, I want it southern–sturdy and deeply savory with crisp edges. It’s just as good sandwiched with a fried egg as it is as a side to soup or roast chicken.

My favorite cornbread requires just seven ingredients: yellow cornmeal, baking powder, salt, buttermilk, an egg, melted butter, and bacon fat. Yes, bacon fat. It makes the edges of this cornbread outrageously delicious and, of course, keeps it from sticking to the pan. Don’t have bacon fat lying around? Just substitute a tablespoon of neutral-flavored oil. It won’t have the same depth of flavor, but your cornbread will still come out of the oven with crispy edges.

You may also have noticed that there is no flour in this cornbread. This means it just happens to be gluten-free 😊

Southern-Style Cornbread & Chipotle-Lime Honey ButterWhile this recipe contains only a few ingredients, it needs a little technique to make the finished cornbread irresistible. The batter comes together in just a few minutes. Before you go to bake it though, make sure to get the pan nice and hot. I heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high for a good three minutes before swirling in the bacon fat. While the pan is still heating on the stove, I scrape in the batter and then let it cook for a minute before sliding it into the oven. This minute on the burner is just more assurance that the finished cornbread will have a great crispy edge.

Southern-Style Cornbread & Chipotle-Lime Honey ButterOne of my favorite things about making cornbread? It’s ready to eat just minutes after it comes out of the oven. I spend so many hours of my life waiting for things to cool–I love that this recipe doesn’t require that sort of tedium. In the ten minutes that I waited before slicing into this cornbread, I had time to whip up a simple Chipotle-Lime Honey Butter. While this Southern-Style Cornbread is perfectly delicious with a pat of regular butter, this spicy, tangy, slightly sweet butter really brings it over the top.Southern-Style Cornbread & Chipotle-Lime Honey Butter

Southern-Style Cornbread
makes about 8 servings

2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon bacon fat (or neutral-flavored oil)

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Combine buttermilk and egg in a measuring cup. Whisk together with a fork. Fold into dry ingredients. Fold in melted butter.

Heat an 8- or 9-inch oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat for at least 3 minutes. Add bacon fat and coat. Add cornbread batter. Cook for one minute before transferring to the oven. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cornbread cool for ten minutes before slicing into wedges and serving with Chipotle-Lime Honey Butter.

Chipotle-Lime Honey Butter
makes about 1/4 cup

1/4 cup butter, softened to room temperature
zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt (omit if using salted butter)
1 teaspoon honey

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Mash together with a fork. Taste and adjust chile powder by up to 1/4 teaspoon. Transfer compound butter to a serving dish.

Pasta Bolognese

Pasta BologneseFive afternoons a week, I walk to an apartment building on the western edge of Brooklyn Heights and make dinner for a family of four. When I took this job last April, I didn’t know what to expect. The family has fourteen year-old twin boys and while they have pretty adventurous palates, they are still children. I knew I wasn’t going to be making anything terribly avant garde for them, but I certainly didn’t want to cook boring food–anything but that.

Luckily the boys let me kind of do my thing, occasionally asking for something specific, but otherwise just letting me make what I want. In the last ten months, they’ve become particularly fond of my spicy turkey tacos, chicken nuggets, and the Asian-style chicken wings from Foodie with Family (make those for the Super Bowl!). Their favorite dinner though, is my Pasta Bolognese. The twins ask for it nearly every week. If I have the time and/or am feeling particularly kind that day, I oblige.

Pasta BologneseYou see, Pasta Bolognese is no small undertaking. It takes a minimum of three hours start-to-finish, and there are many steps. But the resulting sauce is so delicious–meaty, rich, and comforting–that it’s worth the effort. If it weren’t, I’d skip the whole process and just brown some meat and toss it with a jar of marinara.

Y’all, if you’ve never made Bolognese from scratch, you might be missing out. Sure, there are a lot of steps to the recipe, but all of them are really easy. And seriously, homemade sauce beats the pants off anything you can buy in a store.

Pasta BologneseMy Bolognese is not quite traditional, but it’s damn good. The sauce starts with browning a pound each of ground beef and sweet Italian sausage. You don’t just want it cooked through. This is the base flavor for the sauce–get the meat brown.

Next up, more browning. Like my Lamb Ragù, browning everything is really important here. Take ten ounces of mushrooms and pulverize them in the food processor before browning them. Mushrooms are not traditional in Bolognese, but I love using them here for two reasons:

  1. Their meaty umami flavor means that we can use them in place of some of the traditional ground beef. Even if you have an anti-mushroom contingent in your family, they’ll still like this sauce. The twins would flip their lids if they knew my “secret” ingredient, but they are blissfully unaware and have been eating their least favorite vegetable for nearly a year. This brings me to my next point…
  2. The mushrooms add a little nutrition to a very rich dish. Where many Bolognese recipes are almost too heavy to enjoy, this one is a bit lighter than normal. Rest assured, all the flavor is there. I’ve just given you a reason to have seconds. You’re welcome.

Watch the mushrooms carefully during the browning process. They are in teeny tiny pieces and burn without warning. I’ve burned them twice in the last six months, and there is very little worse than having to stop mid-recipe to clean the pot and go buy more ingredients. Trust me.

Pasta BologneseOnce your mushrooms are done, brown a mixture of carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Add the mushrooms and sausage back to the pot before stirring in a veritable ton of tomato paste. Let that start to caramelize before adding bay leaves, thyme, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, beef stock, and water. Bring it all to a boil before simmering for about two hours.

At this point, you can rest a bit. The major work is done, and all that’s left to do is stir the sauce occasionally and add some water. Do the dishes, watch some bad TV, drink some coffee–do whatever you want, as long as you can go check on the sauce every now and again. Once the Bolognese is thick and beautiful, toss half of it with a pound of cooked spaghetti and top it with some Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Pasta BologneseOh, y’all. Look at that. It’s the stuff my dreams are made of. This Pasta Bolognese is seriously delicious, and just as good for any day as it is for a dinner party. This rich, meaty meal is a great recipe to make on the weekend–nobody will have an issue eating the leftover sauce! In fact, the flavor just gets better as it sits. Love that.Pasta Bolognese

Pasta Bolognese
makes 8 servings

Bolognese:
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
10 ounces white button mushrooms
4 medium carrots, cleaned
4 stalks celery
1 large white onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 12-ounce can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
pinch of crushed red pepper flake (optional)
4 cups low sodium beef stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
6 cups water, divided

For Assembly:
water, for pasta
salt, for pasta
1 pound dried spaghetti
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, warm 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and sausage and break it up with a wooden spoon. Brown meat, continuing to break it up as necessary, for 15-20 minutes, until deeply browned. Transfer meat to a large bowl, reserving fat in the pot. Reduce heat to medium.

Wipe mushrooms clean with a damp paper towel. Place them in a food processor and pulse 15 times, or until pulverized. If there are less than 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until brown (about 15 minutes). Remove mushrooms to the bowl with the meat.

Add carrots, celery, onion, and garlic to the bowl of the food processor and process until pulverized (but not soupy). Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and bring the heat back up to medium-high. Add vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (about 20 minutes). 

Add meat and mushrooms back to the pot. Stir in tomato paste. Cook mixture, stirring frequently, until the tomato paste starts to darken. Add bay leaves, thyme, optional red pepper flake. Pour in beef stock, balsamic vinegar, and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil before reducing heat to medium-low. Allow sauce to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When liquid reduces by half, add 4 cups water and continue to simmer until time is up. Remove sauce from heat. Remove bay leaves and dispose of them. Taste the sauce and adjust the salt to your liking.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Before draining it, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Return drained pasta back to its cooking pot. Add about half the Bolognese, tossing everything together with tongs. Add pasta cooking water in small increments until the sauce coats the pasta to your liking.

Serve Pasta Bolognese in shallow bowls. Top with grated Parmagiano Reggiano and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. It may also be frozen for up to two months.