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A Bolognese Sauce to Appease the Grandmother Within

Editor’s Note: It is with great fondness that we recall the late Marcella Hazan. May she rest in peace, and may her family and loved ones take great comfort in their memories of her. She was an inspiration and a godsend to us all.

I come from stirring stock. That is to say, my people are stirrers. It’s how my grandmother, avó Costa, cooked. She stood, facing the stove, for hours in her pink housecoat and pink slippers, her tiny hand planted on her hip, singing in her thin, reedy voice. She stirred all kinds of Portuguese comestibles: spicy stuffing with chunks of homemade chouriço; her famous pink (of course) chicken, rice, and potato soup; and vats and vats of kale soup. When she grew too old to stir her soups and stews for long, I’d do it for her. By then, age had stolen a few inches from her, but she still managed to peer over the tops of the pots and instruct, “Mais devagar, queirdo, mais devagar.” Slower, sweetheart, slower.

I think it’s genetic. When the temperature outdoors nosedives, all I want to do is hover over a simmering pot and stir. And what I’ve been craving lately is a long-simmered, deeply flavored Bolognese sauce recipe. The kind that takes no prisoners. The kind that makes your guests plead for the secret. (Are you reading this, Kate Jackson?) The kind that leaves you on the couch unable to move because you didn’t have enough sense to stop after your second helping of seconds. I’m certain if vovó had discovered Marcella Hazan’s ragù Bolognese in her lifetime, she would’ve petitioned the Pope to make us Italian. It’s her kind of dish.

So my hunt was on for a Portuguese-grandmother-approved Bolognese sauce–rich, meaty, slow-cooked, constantly stirred–to quench that nagging craving. This narrowed the field exponentially. Anything from a 30-minute-meal proselytizer was clearly out of contention, as were recipes from TV chefs and hosts. I found–and promptly rejected–a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated that got the job done in two hours. (Two hours? I can’t find my way out of our pantry in two hours.) Then, while sitting in front of my cookbook collection, I was reminded of another short, sturdy woman who also comes from stirring stock: L’Imperatrice–The Empress–Marcella Hazan.

I immediately downloaded The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. (Why I didn’t already have a copy is a question for another day.) Flipping through the book revealed a woman who spoke her mind, knew right from wrong, and who, if you disagreed with what she had to say, well, that was your problem. (Not at all unlike Momma Leite.) I knew The Empress wouldn’t let me down. And she didn’t. Her Bolognese sauce clocks in at a whopping six hours. That’s longer than some relationship I’ve seen.

As I leaned against the stove with my iPad in its kitchen condom, a gorgeous sauce burbling down to sweet goodness in the pot, I was connecting to my past–to my stirrers. And to a craving even deeper, to be with my avó just one more time.



Ragú Bolognese

Marcella Hazan, in her inimitable fashion, offers the home cook plenty of suggestions to create an authentic Bolognese sauce recipe, the kind my grandmother would approve of. First, the more marbled the meat, the sweeter the ragù. The most desirable cut of beef is the neck portion of the chuck. You may have to call up and order it from your butcher. It’s also important to salt the meat as soon as it hits the pan; it extracts the juices and flavors the sauce. Last, use a heavy pot that retains heat. (I use my Le Creuset 5-quart Dutch oven.) Avoid a cast-iron pot, as the acid can interact with the metal and turn the sauce an unpleasant blech color.David Leite

LC Time is Not of the Essence Note

Rush this bolognese recipe from Marcella Hazan, and you’ll miss its most important ingredient: Time. Time to ponder. Time to make lists. Time to sing the entire soundtrack of Evita. Time to reflect on what a godsend Marcella Hazan was to us all.

Bolognese Sauce Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 6 H
  • Makes 4 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 1/3 cups chopped celery
  • 1 1/3 cups chopped carrot
  • 1/2 pound ground beef chuck
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or ground if your’re bereft of fresh
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups reduced homemade tomato paste or canned imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, with their juice
  • As much spaghetti as you wish, cooked and drained
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, at the table

Directions

  • 1. Heat the oil and 6 tablespoons butter in a heavy 5-quart over medium heat until the butter melts and stops foaming. Drop in the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it has become translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • 2. Dump in the celery and carrot and cook for 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them well with the fat.
  • 3. Add the ground meats, a very healthy pinch of salt, and a goodly amount of pepper. Crumble the meat with a wooden spoon, and stir well the meats have lost their raw, red color.
  • 4. Turn the heat to low. Pour in the milk and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has burbled away completely, about 1 hour. Stir in the nutmeg.
  • 5. Pour in the wine and let it simmer, stirring frequently, until it has evaporated, about 1 1/4 hours.
  • 6. Add the tomato purée or crushed tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat everything well. When the tomato puree begins to bubble, turn down the heat so that the sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.
  • 7. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time. While the sauce is burbling away, there’s a chance that it’ll stat drying out somewhat, and the fat will separate from the meat.To keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot and scorching, add 1/2 cup water as necessary. But it’s crucial that by the time the sauce has finished simmering, the water should be completely evaporated, and the fat should separate from the sauce. Take a spoonful–or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • 8. Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on the side.
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