Today I am sharing Marcella Hazan's Classic Bolognese Sauce.
In 2016, the year I wrote this post, I had just finished two online Italian cooking classes taught by Marcella Hazan's only son, Giuliano Hazan. I started with Classic Italian Pasta Sauces: Seafood & Vegetable, which did not include red sauces, then his second class, Classic Italian Pasta Sauces: Meat & Tomato which did. I not only learned a lot about Italian sauces, but I got a great appreciation for Giuliano, his reverence for his late mother, and their cherished family recipes. Sometimes it felt a little bit like being in church. Craig Claiborne said of Marcella Hazan's work, "No one has ever done more to spread the gospel of pure Italian cookery in America". Indeed.
Why Is This Recipe So Special?
- Marcella Hazan's recipe for Bolognese takes a long time, a full four hours at least to make. Bolognese is not so much a tomato sauce as it is a meat sauce. The classic recipe must contain onions, celery, carrots, ground beef, tomatoes, milk and white wine. Traditionally it is served over a long, flat pasta, preferably tagliatelle or pappadelle.
- The long, slow simmer gives the flavors from the vegetables and the meat time to fully develop. The milk adds a rich creaminess to the sauce. The addition of real Parmesan Cheese at the table completes the dish. Don't leave it off.
- Bolognese is not spaghetti sauce or marinara sauce. It is Bolognese sauce, in a class of its own. If you decide to make Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Sauce, I think you'll agree.
- Ground Beef - Ground chuck is preferred over a leaner cut of beef because fat is a key component in this dish.
- Milk - Again it must be whole milk for the proper amount of fat.
- Wine - The recipe calls for a good, dry white wine. Chefs always say, "You shouldn't cook with a wine you wouldn't want to drink."
- Tomatoes - Imported Italian San Marzano tomatoes are highly recommended.
- Cheese - Parmesan cheese freshly grated at the table.
- Nutmeg - Freshly grated from whole nutmeg is highly recommended.
Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the recipe card.
Add oil, butter and onions to pot over medium heat until onions are soften.
Add carrots and celery and cook for two minutes until everything is coated.
Add ground beef to pot and cook using a fork to break up the meat.
Continue cooking until meat is brown and lost its red color. Add salt & pepper.
Add milk to pot and simmer on low heat. Check frequently and stir.
Continue simmering until all the milk has reduced down.
When the milk is reduced all the way grind fresh nutmeg into pot.
Pour one cup wine into pot. Simmer until wine is completely reduced.
Continue simmering until the liquid is gone.
Add the tomatoes to the pot. Stir and simmer over very low heat for 3 hrs.
If the pot gets dry add water 1 cup at a time to prevent sticking and burning.
Done when liquid is gone, leaving only meat mixture and grease. Ready to eat.
- I respect the legacy of Marcella Hazan, her son Giuliano Hazan, and this classic recipe too much to suggest that it could or should be improved upon. I will share the ingredients as written, with my own words for the step-by-step instructions. There are plenty of "variations" of this recipe online if you chose to make changes. I suggest you try Marcella Hazan's Classic Bolognese Sauce first. The next time, if you feel you can best the queen of Italian cooking, go for it!
You cook Bolognese sauce for hours uncovered so that the sauce reduces and the flavors really intensify. You get reduction by evaporation and that is achieved by cooking it uncovered. Liquids are added one at a time and the next is not added until the previous one has reduced completely down. This allows the milk, the wine, and the tomatoes to add their individual flavors to the dish.
Most of us aren't used to adding dairy to tomato meat sauces. Adding milk to bolognese adds a richer depth of flavor, and it tenderizes the beef.
Bolognese is a kind of ragù, which means "meat sauce" in Italian originating in Bologna, Italy. This meat sauce (ragù) is celebrated by Italians. It is not the same as Americans think of meat sauce. American meat sauce is often a tomato-based sauce simmered with ground beef. Bolognese is much thicker, creamier, and with just a touch of tomato.
Italian-born Marcella Hazan was a scholar, teacher, home cook, and cookbook author. Her book The Classic Italian Cookbook was released in the spring of 1973. When her publisher refused to submit her 1992 book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for consideration for the James Beard Awards, she submitted the book on her own—and won, in the category of Best Italian Cookbook.
At her passing in 2013, Lidia Bastianich, herself a famed NYC restauranteur, proclaimed Ms. Hazan as “the first mother of Italian Cooking.” She has been credited with changing the way Americans cook Italian food. The New York Times polled readers after her death, asking which of her recipes were staples in their kitchens. “Bolognese” was usually the answer. She had a few recipes for the classic sauce, but The NY Times published Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Sauce recipe that appeared in her book “The Essentials of Classic Italian Cuisine.”
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- Dutch oven or very heavy bottomed pot (no lid needed)
- Large wooden spoon
- Sharp knife
- Microplane for grating nutmeg and cheese
- Don't rush the process. It takes time and a slow simmer to reduce each of the liquids to get their full flavor into the dish. Cooking time is at least four hours.
- It is very easy to scorch the bottom of the pot on the final step. Be aware and check often. The scorched taste can ruin the dish. If it does happen, quickly remove the food to another pot, scape the scorched stuff off the bottom and wash the pot. Return the food to the pot and start simmering again, on very slow heat.
- Ideally Pair the bolognese with the same great, dry white wine you used for cooking. (see note above in the Ingredients section)
- A small side salad with a light vinaigrette and a chunk of French Bread are all you need.
Marcella Hazan's Classic Bolognese Sauce
- Dutch Oven or very heavy bottomed pot (no lid needed)
- Large wooden spoon
- Sharp knife
- Microplane for grating nutmeg and cheese
- 1 tablespoons Vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons Butter plus one tablespoon for tossing with the pasta
- ½ cup onion chopped
- ⅔ cup chopped celery
- ⅔ cup carrot diced
- .75 pounds ground beef chuck can be 1 part pork, if desired
- Kosher salt large pinch of salt
- Black pepper 2 grindings of pepper from mill
- 1 cup Whole milk
- pinch Nutmeg tiny grating from whole nutmeg
- 1 cup Dry white wine
- 1.5 cups Canned imported Italian plum tomatoes cut up, with their juice
- ½ pound Pasta
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese freshly grated at the table
- Put 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.
- Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat them well.
- 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 ⅛ 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 ½ 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.
- Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.
Approximate nutrition information is provided as a convenience and courtesy only. You are encouraged to do your own calculations if precise data is required.