Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce

Classic goodness

Disappointingly, women today are still not respected, nonetheless celebrated. In this month of March when we celebrate Women’s History, it is important to pay tribute to the incredible women who shape and inspire us. Women who deserve recognition everyday, but some extra pomp and circumstance all March long. Marcella Hazan is one of those women. When reading about Marcella you come across many admiring quotes – famous chefs and food writers who credit Marcella for teaching them how to cook, care for, and love food. Interestingly, many of the chefs Marcella inspired were men. Marcella did begin cooking for traditional reasons – married in 1955 and living in New York she was first compelled to cook in order to”feed a young, hard-working husband.” Although her foray into cooking was more or less due to gender stereotypes, she quickly realized her skillfulness and wasted no time putting it to good work. Hazan went on to publish several cookbooks. Her first, The Classic Italian Cookbook, is legitimately the classic Italian cookbook. It is canonical. This March, Luke and I honored Marcella’s legacy by tackling her bolognese recipe.  We’d argue it’s the only bolognese recipe you’ll ever need. No need to cross reference with other cookbooks or websites, substitute one ingredient for another, or make many additions. Follow this recipe as is and you’ll have the perfect bolognese sauce.


  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 3 TBS butter + 1 TBS for tossing pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 3/4 pound ground beef chuck (80% lean, 20% fat is best)
  • salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • a tiny grating (approx. 1/8 tsp) fresh nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cup canned whole tomatoes, cut up, with their juices (get good quality!)
  • 1 lb pasta (spaghetti or fettuccine)
  • freshly grated parm, for serving


  1. Be prepared to spend the next 4 hours tending to your bolognese. Once it starts simmering it doesn’t take much work, but this sauce likes to be checked up on regularly.
  2. Put the oil, butter, and chopped onion in a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven and turn heat on medium. Cook until the onion has become translucent, about 5 minutes, and then add the carrots and celery.* Cook for an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt, and a few grindings of pepper. Stir meat well, so that it crumbles, breaking up with a fork if necessary. Cook until the beef has lost its red color.
  4. Add milk and let it simmer gently, stirring frequently, until milk has bubbled away completely. Add the freshly grated nutmeg and stir.
  5. Add the wine, and as with the milk, let it simmer until it has evaporated completely. Add the tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all the ingredients well. When the tomatoes begin to bubble turn the heat all the way down. You want the sauce to cook at a very gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 3 hours, stirring from time to time. During this cooking process, you will likely find that the sauce loses quite a bit of liquid.  Be wary of this! You don’t want the meat to stick to the bottom of your pot so add 1/2 cup water at a time when the liquid supply is looking low.* At the end of the 3 hours though no water should be left. Also check taste as you go, adding more salt as necessary.
  6. Add a tablespoon of butter to the cooked pasta, and toss with the sauce. Serve with plenty of freshly grated parm.

The recipe above is verbatim Marcella Hazan bolognese. We did not want to disrespect the queen of Italian cooking in this post. We did make the following 2 minor adjustments that you can consider making as well –

  1. With the celery and carrots, we also added a couple cloves of garlic, minced.
  2. We created a mixture of tomato paste and warm water (1 TBS tomato paste to 2 cups warm water), stirring the tomato paste into the water so that it would dissolve. We added this mixture to the sauce when it was drying out. We ended up using all 2 cups of this mixture during the 3 hour simmer.

Details: Serves 4-6.

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