An Ode to Marcella Hazan and Her Bolognese Sauce

To say I love Italian food would be an understatement. Growing up in an Italian household, pasta was a staple most nights. We would have everything from oil & garlic based sauces to pesto, to red sauce. Now, I reference Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for almost all of my recipes.

Marcella Hazan (née Polini) was an Italian-born cookbook author and educator, widely regarded as one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine. She was born on April 15, 1924, in Cesenatico, Italy, and passed away on September 29, 2013, in Longboat Key, Florida, United States.

Hazan didn't initially set out to become a culinary authority. She earned a doctorate in natural sciences and biology from the University of Ferrara and began her career teaching science in Italy. However, her life took a turn when she moved to New York City with her husband, Victor Hazan, in the late 1950s.

As recounted in her 1997 book Marcella Cucina:

"... there I was, having to feed a young, hard-working husband who could deal cheerfully with most of life's ups and downs, but not with an indifferent meal. In Italy, I would not have wasted time thinking about it. My mother cooked, my father cooked, both my grandmothers cooked, even the farm girls who came in to clean could cook. In the kitchen of my New York apartment there was no one."

In New York, Hazan discovered a lack of authentic Italian cuisine and ingredients, which prompted her to delve deeper into her culinary roots. She started teaching cooking classes out of her apartment, focusing on traditional Italian techniques and recipes.

Hazan gained recognition for her cooking classes, which eventually led to the publication of her first cookbook, "The Classic Italian Cookbook," in 1973. This seminal work introduced American audiences to the authentic flavors and techniques of Italian cooking. Her writing style was characterized by its simplicity and clarity, making complex Italian recipes accessible to home cooks.

Over the years, Hazan continued to write several more cookbooks, including More Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella's Italian Kitchen, and Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (my personal cooking bible). Her recipes emphasized the importance of fresh, high-quality ingredients and precise cooking methods.

Hazan's impact on the culinary world extended beyond her cookbooks. She was instrumental in elevating Italian cuisine to a respected culinary tradition in the United States. Her teachings and writings influenced countless chefs and home cooks, shaping the way Italian food is prepared and appreciated worldwide.

In recognition of her contributions to the culinary world, Hazan received numerous awards and honors throughout her lifetime. She remains a beloved figure in the world of food, remembered for her passion for Italian cuisine and her dedication to preserving its traditions.

In this post, I would like to highlight her most popular recipe, Bolognese. With the long cook time and simple ingredients, it is the perfect recipe for a gathering of loved ones, or my personal favorite, save a bit to put on toast in the morning with a runny egg and freshly grated parmesan on top. Pair it with the Vermentino and a simple dandelion greens and red wine vinaigrette salad with shredded parmesan on top for a perfect meal.


Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce


Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Yield: 2 cups, for about 6 servings and 1½ pounds pasta
  • tablespoon olive oil
  • tablespoons unsalted butter plus 1 tablespoon for tossing the pasta
  • ½ cup chopped yellow onion
  • ⅔ cup chopped celery
  • ⅔ cup chopped carrot
  • ¾ pound ground beef (or you can use 1 part pork to 2 parts beef)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
  • cup whole milk
  • Whole nutmeg (you will only need to grate to 1/8 tsp from the whole piece, or use 1/8 tsp of ground nutmeg)
  • cup dry white wine (like our Vermentino, an Italian varietal that is similar to Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
  • 1¼ to 1½ pounds pasta (the classic is tagliatelle, but gnocchi can be a fun twist)
  • Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese at the table
  1. Put the oil, butter and chopped onion in the pot and turn the heat on to medium. Cook the onion until it has become translucent, then add the chopped celery and carrot. Stir the vegetables until they are coated in the oils, and cook for about 2 minutes.
  2. 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 browned and lost its red color.
  3. Add the cup of milk and let it lightly simmer, frequently stirring, until the milk has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating -- about ⅛ teaspoon -- of nutmeg, and stir.
  4. Pour in 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 is barely simmering. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time, to prevent from sticking (if it is sticking, add ½ cup of water when necessary). While the sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat, again, add a bit of water when needed, but the separation is normal. At the end, no water must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce. Stir to mix the fat into the sauce, taste and correct for salt.
  5. Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the tablespoon of butter, and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side, and parsley for freshness.
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