Running kids from soccer to basketball to dance class to piano lessons to hockey to play dates to birthday parties to check-ups…OMG!

How do they ever work in mealtime for the LITTLE DARLINGS, especially when they can be so fussy and finicky about what’s on their plate – screaming, “Don’t let that green stuff touch my chicken!”… “I hate this!”… “You never make anything I like”… “You’re a bad mom!”

Is it any wonder that moms frequently take the default route and open a jar of SPAGHETTI SAUCE, universally loved (or at least not despised) by busy, highly strung, highly programmed, type A kidlets?

And honestly, some of the jarred sauces are pretty good. So that’s okay.

But Mom, when it’s a frigid Sunday afternoon in Minnesota and the temp hovers around zero, I have an “oasis” for you – better than “Mommy’s Little Helper” (if not quite a spa treatment). It involves losing yourself in a fulfilling, rewarding and serene six-hour hover over a steaming pot of comfort food – the Holy Grail for Italian food lovers: MARCELLA HAZAN’S BOLOGNESE SAUCE!!! It’s the best you’ll ever eat. BY FAR.

In preparation for opening PRONTO RISTORANTE years ago in the Hyatt Minneapolis, my partner Pete and I attended Marcella Hazan’s cooking school in Bologna, Italy (check us out. We were “puppies”). And while I am certain that every region in Italy considers itself the country’s food capital, I’ve traveled enough in Italy – north to south, and even Sicily – to come to the informed conclusion that EMILIA ROMAGNA takes the prize. That’s why its capital, Bologna, is called “FAT CITY.”

By the way, David Leite of Culinaria once described Marcella perfectly, calling her “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.”

Marcella has published a number of cookbooks over the years, the two most popular being The Classic Italian Cookbook, published I think in 1982, and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in 2000.

My understanding of Bolognese sauce is that a version of the earliest documented recipe first appeared in Italy in the late 18th century. Since then, innumerable versions have seen print. Many claim to be “definitive.” All the ones I’ve tasted are definitely delicious.

The Italian have RULES UPON RULES – or at least very passionately held opinions – about exactly which pasta should be paired with which sauce. Italian cooks may frequently be wrong, but they are NEVER IN DOUBT, and the prevailing opinion is that Bolognese Sauce should be paired with TAGLIATELLE. Perhaps. I like tagliatelle. But I also like my Bolognese paired with tortellini…and fettucine…penne…farfalle…and my favorite, pappardelle, with its broad surfaces for the sauce to cling to. That’s the way we served it at MOZZA MIA…and in a skillet (DAMN, I miss that place!).

Now, I would expect that the “Birkenstock crowd” (of which my daughter is a proud member) would tout that the sauce is equally delicious paired with tofu or zucchini ribbons. Go ahead if you like (but that sounds awful to me).

Some stuff that does NOT sound awful to me: SAN MARZANO TOMATOES, for one thing. Whatever you have to pay for them, it’s worth it. They come from the rich lava soil on the slopes of MT. VESUVIAS near Naples. Buy them canned (yes, canned). They’re picked at the peak of flavor and are much better than the rock-hard ones you may find at the grocery store. Squash them with your hands or cut ‘em up with kitchen shears.

Use a LE CREUSET DUTCH OVEN or something equivalent – NEVER CAST IRON (the acid from the tomatoes will have a bad reaction and turn the sauce into a disgusting color).

Now, I mentioned two cookbooks that Marcella wrote. Both have a recipe for her Bolognese sauce. Her secret – the thing that makes Marcella’s Bolognese deeply flavorful and smooth as silk, is the addition of WHOLE MILK or CREAM. Marcella taught Pete and me to use HEAVY CREAM.

Yet her two published recipes are not identical. In the earlier book, when the sauce is composed and simmering, Marcella adds the wine and, after cooking it down, adds the milk. The later book instructs you to add the milk first, then the wine. See the printed recipe. Pete and I were taught to add the wine first.

I don’t know, perhaps it’s a distinction without a difference. But here’s one bit of advice that Marcella provided consistently: After you toss the Bolognese with the pasta of your choice, at the table, grate PARMIGIANO REGGIANO CHEESE on top. Do not skimp here. Get the real thing – aged three to four years, priced around $22-25 a pound, AND WORTH EVERY PENNY.

So Mom…on a cold, cold winter Sunday afternoon, don’t waste the day or do something stupid outside. Follow Marcella and sweat and sauté those veggies…braise those meats (beef, pork and veal if you like)…crack a bottle of BASKET CHIANTI, and hover over that steaming, simmering pot.

Six hours later, celebrate your therapeutic afternoon with a sauce that just might be Italy’s single greatest contribution to cooking.

Buon Appetito!!!! (and yes, crack another bottle of Chianti!).



  • March 17, 2023 at 8:18 pm

    Oh Phil thanks for the background on the sauce. The Memories are still alive when I could go to Pronto Ristorante. Never found a place better but your St. Paul place was close. (can’t remember the name)
    Muffoletto’s or something like that!

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