I Tried Tom Hiddleston’s Pasta-Less Bolognese Recipe

In GQ's wonderfully delightful cover story on Tom Hiddleston, we learned a lot about the actor/T-Swift's ex. Like he is a really, really nice guy who likes Obama, Jonathan Franzen, and Tom Hanks. He loves his family. The Taylor Swift t-shirt thing was a joke that the press misinterpreted. And he makes a great bolognese, sometimes alone, while watching Moonlight. So titillated was the internet by the tidbits in the article about the bolognese in question ("Bacon! Also: Butter! He also loves bacon and butter!") that the author Taffy Akner tweeted out the complete recipe.
Then, shortly, she followed up with this stunning revelation:
A pasta-less, bacon-full bolognese? With butter? And milk? I had to try it. As I ran out the door to the grocery store, braving a New York blizzard, I paused to ask my roommate: what does one serve with plain bolognese? "Italian dunkers!" I looked at her blankly. "Italian dunkers! Italian dunkers, Italian dunkers," she kept repeating, as if the words would suddenly gain meeting through repetition. "Sarah, I do not know what the heck you are talking about" It turns out Italian dunkers are a specialty of the Lincoln, Nebraska public school system, of which my roommate is a product. They are (or at least were, in the late 90s and early aughts), a cup of bolognese sauce served with split hotdog buns covered with cheese. Wait a minute, was Tom really from England, or was he secretly a Midwesterner? Is his accent an elaborate hoax? How else can you explain a fully-grown man making meat sauce without pasta, alone, of his own volition? I'm just saying, its not, not a possibility. I agreed to pick up sandwich rolls so we could make our own Italian dunkers a la Tom Hiddleston. The actual cooking was fairly easy. I sautéed bacon in butter, guesstimating that a "big generous knob of butter" is about two tablespoons. (To be fair, this is my Southern American guess at what is "generous," it's possible the Brits have a more restrained approach when it comes to dairy spreads.) Then I threw in some vegetables, some ground beef (a.k.a. "mince,") sautéed that, poured in tomato sauce, wine, and milk, and prepared to stick it in the oven. The bolognese is braised at 180 degrees, which gave me pause: that's not a very hot oven — more like a very hot sauna. I then remembered that, since England is on the metric system (as is every country but the U.S., Myanmar, and Liberia), he probably meant 180 degrees celsius. I did a little brief Googling and confirmed that England went metric in 1965, a full 15 years before Tom Hiddleston was born. I confidently heated the oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit and let it do its thing. After after what felt like a reasonable time (when the mozzarella melted on the sandwich roll), we served up and and chowed down. It tasted an awful lot like regular bolognese, but with bacon in it, and, yes, kind of buttery. I didn't miss the pasta as much as I thought, because it also felt a little bit like a chili, but served on a plate. It definitely tasted nice spooned onto our cheesy bread, as the good people of Nebraska intended.
Photo: Courtesy of Marshall Bright.
"What do you think?" I asked my roommate, the only person besides Hiddleston I know who had eaten such a thing before. "You can... really taste every ingredient." (Later, the next day, she would repeat the same thing. It may be the truest thing she's ever said.) For dessert, I made chocolate chip cookies, because maybe, just maybe, for that brief, shining moment when there was Hiddleswift, he made his bolognese and she made cookies. I have the unique talent of having the Nestle Tollhouse cookie recipe memorized, so I whipped up a batch as the sauce braised. The pasta-less bolognese and cookies were both good, but they didn't really go together... maybe their love was always doomed. I had set out to recreate wanted to recreate the magic of Hiddleston's bolognese. And while it wasn't as bad as cafeteria food, it did fall somewhat short of my expectations. Was it because I watched Rupaul's Drag Race while making it, instead of Moonlight, as Hiddleston did? Was it because I don't have the twinkle in my eye that he does? Does Hiddleston's charm render even a basic meat sauce more delectable? We may never know. But, if you want to try it yourself, below, you will find my own interpretation of Hiddleston's recipe, plus my Nebraskan Italian dunkers addition. Italian Dunkers ala Tom Hiddleston
Serves 4

8 oz ground beef (I went with sirloin, but really, I was just guessing at this point)
1 carrot, minced as best you can
1 stalk of celery, same as above
1/2 large onion, though honestly, a whole small onion would also be fine
2 slices bacon, sliced
2 tablespoons butter, but also probably a little bit less?
32 oz can diced tomato
Red wine (some for sauce, rest for drinking)
As much milk as you can stand before thinking about how gross it is to braise dairy
"Garnish" to taste (I assume this is salt and pepper) For Bread:
Hotdog or hero rolls
Shredded mozzarella cheese Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (about 360 Fahrenheit) 2. In a dutch oven, melt butter, add bacon. Once bacon is just starting to crisp, add the carrot, celery, and onion. Stir occasionally, till the vegetables start to soften and brown. Add the ground beef, and cook till just browned. 3. Stir in the diced tomatoes, a few healthy glugs of wine, and a splash of milk (I probably could have done more here, but was terrified the whole time.) 4. Bring whole pot to a boil, then simmer on low until the sauce thickens and darkens, around 15 minutes. 5. Add salt and pepper ("healthy garnish"????) to taste. Place in the preheated oven, and let braise for, I don't know, an hour I guess? Less is probably fine? About as long as it takes you to make one recipe of chocolate chip cookies. Add the bread topped with cheese in at the end. 6. Pour the rest of the red wine in glasses, eat, enjoy, and reflect on whether you really think Hiddleswift was a publicity stunt. Like the true nature of Hiddleston's bolognese, the answer may be unknowable.

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