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Sauce Bolognese

You can, of course, buy spaghetti sauce in a jar. I think you can even buy sauce that says it is “Bolognese.” But. its. not.. That sauce is to homemade Bolognese as a polyester uniform top is to a silk kimono. (If you’ve never worn a polyester uniform top, you are a lucky, lucky human being).

Bolognese is a sauce that is rich, not terribly tomato-y, full of very tender meat, and delicious on pasta (taglietella is best), polenta, or soaked up with chunks of bread. If you make a lot, you can freeze it and have something amazing to pull out of your freezer if you are troubled by spiritual dis-ease or unexpected dinner guests. It is somewhat labor intensive, and must cook for a long time over low heat to reach the velvety texture that is its hallmark. That means you have to stay home for at least the four hours it takes to prep the ingredients and let it simmer. On the other hand, its just really, really delicious and you’ll just have to trust me until you make some yourself.

I have always used Marcella Hazan’s recipe, until today. Next time, I will be using Marcella Hazan’s recipe.

Today, I tried a recipe from “Cook’s Country” magazine, which is edited by Christopher Kimball of “Cook’s Illustrated,” and is usually pretty impeccable. The premise was that Bolognese takes too long to make, and that cooking time could be shortened by making use of an uncovered Crockpot on high heat for the simmering. Basically, the sauce is made the “normal” way and then transferred to the slow cooker to simmer for 6-7 hours. The sauce should reduce, thicken and intensify in flavor during the hours of simmering, regardless of method. Theoretically, if this worked, one could actually leave the house during simmering.

I followed the directions meticulously, which in itself was bizarre. Usually I play with recipes, but since the changes in this method seemed to involve actual science as opposed to ingredients and flavors, I thought I’d better toe the line. At noon I had the sauce simmering in the crockpot. Six hours later I had some very liquid-y sauce under a layer of clear liquid simmering in the crock pot. Seven hours later there was a barely perceptible change in the level of the liquid, but it was still essentially meat soup with slime on top. Eight hours later I spooned it all back into a real pot, put it on the real stove. cranked it up for half an hour, reduced it, and served it over spaghetti. It was quite tasty, but Good Lord I could have lived without transferring 12 cups of hot, red liquid twice in one day (net loss: one apron and one pink cardigan), and it wasn’t even slightly better than what I usually make. I don’t know if the failure to cook properly has to do with the properties of my slow cooker, but this experience reaffirms my deep-seated belief that I am not crockpot-friendly.

I would link to the recipe on the “Cook’s Country” website, but a) I don’t think you should make it because I don’t like it, and b) you aren’t allowed to see the recipe unless you’re a subscriber. If you really want to, you can find it by doing a clever Google search – I did. If you want to try your hand at homemade Bolognese, pick a day when you can be around the house for a while, and make Marcella Hazan’s recipe. Don’t make me tell you again.


About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

12 responses »

  1. Eric Williams

    Correct. You don’t have to tell me twice (laff!) Just looking at Marcella’s recipe, I think one should bow to the standard. I must admit, the first time I made sauce Bolognese, I was surprised the milk lost its milky color so fast and thought I had done something wrong. I was worried for nothing. Bolognese is the true sauce (meat sauce) that should get to be married to spaghetti, or as Ann advises, tagliatelle (broader pasta holds the meat chunks better and is definitely more pleasing to the eye or camera). Ann, methinks we have similar favorite tastes.

  2. Eric, I am pleased to know that you are a “real cooker.” Not surprised, but pleased. I don’t really get the science behind Bolognese – where the milk goes, why it doesn’t curdle when you add the wine – but it works, and its fabulous. Some day I am going to make homemade taglietelle to go with it.

  3. Hello Annie!

    At least you were brave enough to try the recipe out and share your misadventures with us.
    (And sacrifice an apron and a pink cardigan along the way. Oh Poor Cardigan!)
    I couldn’t find your e-mail anywhere to send you an invitation to my SE Michigan Food Bloggers Lunch on the 20th of April.
    Where do you live in Michigan?
    You can send me your e-mail address to 64sqftkitchen at to talk about it. I would love to have you joining us. And there is definitely going to be some seffa 😉 but it’s a secret!

  4. Warda, I’m honored that you came by!! I am trying to resucitate the cardigan using repeated applications of Shout, and Zout, and whatever else is in the laundry room, but its not looking good for a recovery. Maybe if I just keep throwing it in the wash, the red will blend to pink?

    I am beyond delighted to receive my invitation – I have never, ever met another “live” food blogger.

  5. been there, done that, but with my homely little apple butter recipe. one try was all it took to send me right back to my stir and simmer for hours recipe. crockpots……….bah! i’ve never figured out how a cut of meat simmered in liquid could possibly dry out……but it happens to me……EVERY time i try the dadgum crockpot. i’ll stick with pan braising, thank you very much!

  6. jayedee, I agree; its kind of like you get a small piece of dry meat in an enormous pool of kind of yucky liquid. I’ve made soup that was fine, and baked beans, and I do poach chicken the thing, but mostly it sits high on a shelf mocking me.

  7. I want to know whether the cardigan was pink before you transferred 12 cups of hot, red liquid twice.

    (Commenting to give Jayedee another chance at the book — and because I love cooking and making smart remarks.)

  8. katrina, it was pink, but a very pale, baby kind of pink – not a faded Bolognese kind of pink. Now I am realizing that the real issue isn’t the tomato, its the grease. I think I am scrod.

  9. ragu/bolognese is all about browning and scraping the crud – repeatedly. you don’t get to do this in a crockpot…my post on lamb ragu was out of the ny times sunday mag – and it’s brown and scrape, brown and scrape…

    i think it makes a huge diff…

  10. claudia, you are so right – and no, you can’t do it in a crockpot. I am surprised at America’s Test Kitchen. I love Ragu Bolognese above all sauces in the universe, and when I think of eating in Italy, Bolognese over homemade taglietelle with a little REAL Parmaggiano Reggiano is one of the first things I remember.

  11. Have you tried Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce? I love her sauce! It’s my go-to sauce because it only needs 3 ingredients! I did a post on it, please check it out and let me know what you think! I’m new to this blogging thing and I love checking out foodie blogs!

  12. I’ve made the test kitchen version and left the lid off, which allows the sauce to thicken quicker, but it still takes longer than the stated time. Having said that, it ended up to be the tastiest sauce I’ve ever made, and I’ve tried way over a dozen versions. I always welcome new ones, so I’ll try Marcella’s recipe.


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