My copy of Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Italian Cuisine is spotted with red sauce and marked heavily with margin notes. I love this cookbook, it's easily one of my favorites. It was gifted to me years ago with a strong recommendation for the Bolognese recipe and I haven't stopped making it since. In turn, I've gifted numerous copies to good friends for any variety of housewarming or birthday gift, and each time I hear back how much they love it. The recipes are adaptable, intuitive, and uncomplicated. There's something about her tone in this cookbook, you know that every recipe has been tested in every iteration, that she's somehow stripped down the recipes to the essential thing that makes them work.
This bolognese is romantic to me. Something about slow slow cooking and meat falling apart. I love that time practically melts the bolognese, how the tomatoes just disappear into the sauce. And also, it's incredibly easy. It really is a one-pot affair.
I classically make this bolognese with a fresh pasta, a pappardelle is ideal. I wanted to try a variation with polenta and fresh tomatoes instead of the canned tomatoes called for in the recipe. It's extra work to boil the tomatoes and peel the skins but was curious if the effort manifest somehow. The end result was a tangier, more acidic sauce though admittedly, I preferred the bolognese with canned tomatoes.
The true hero of this sauce is the nutmeg. The smallest shaving, over time, warms up the whole sauce and marries the tomatoes and the ground beef. It's amazing to me each time how much the nutmeg matters.
I imagine this is the kind of dish that's perfect on a rainy day or a early Sunday dinner with lots of friends. I also love it the next day over with a thick sourdough toast and a runny egg.
Try the recipe below and buy the cookbook here for more of Marcella Hazan's beautiful recipes.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta
- ½ cup chopped onion
- ⅔ cup chopped celery
- ⅔ cup chopped carrot
- ¾ pound ground beef chuck (or you can use 1 part pork to 2 parts beef)
- Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
- 1 cup whole milk
- Whole nutmeg
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 ½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
- 1 ¼ to 1 ½ pounds pasta or polenta
- Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese at the table
- Add the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn the heat on to medium. Cook and stir the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot
- Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble the meat with a fork, stir well and cook until the beef has lost its raw, red color.
- Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating -- about 1/8 teaspoon -- of nutmeg, and stir.
- Add the wine, let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface.
- Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary. At the end, however, no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.