Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Home for Dinner: “There is no sight on earth more appealing than the sight of a woman making dinner for someone she loves.” – Thomas Wolfe


I look at the clock. It’s 8 p.m. and I wait. I wait for that sound. The sound of our car as it crosses the second bridge and begins its ascent up our impossibly steep hill, tires set to four-wheel drive to make the climb, slowly crunching on the driveway gravel. The sound makes me happy. The car door slams and, from my chair, I spy my husband through the atrium window, the dappled evening light framing him and Bailey, who is gently tucked under his left arm, in a soft champagne glow, as he opens the garden gate for the girls so they can run around before I feed them. He exuberantly opens the front door and I smile. He mumbles something enthusiastically, but I can never clearly make out what he says, although by his tone, I know it’s something good. Inevitably, I hear him breathe in deeply. I imagine that his eyes are closed as he throws back his head, followed by a groan of pleasure and an occasional accompanying knee-jerk expletive. I smile again because I know why he’s moaning (and cursing…but in a good way). He’s responding to the heady perfume of whatever’s bubbling away on the stove. Or whatever may be braising in the oven, lustily filling the air with the delicious scent of wine, garlic, onions and herbs. Or the scent of fruity, sugary bliss gift-wrapped in some sort of flaky, buttery blanket.

As he plops his backpack down on the dining table and marches into the kitchen to peek under the pot’s lid, he questions me with a, “Hi, my beauty! What hast thou wrought?”
This is how we begin dinner almost every night.

But on a particular evening a few weeks back, he says nothing as he comes in. He purposefully strides into the living room and makes a beeline for me. I close my book as he puts both his hands on the rolled arms of my navy leather wing chair, leans down close, just a few inches from my face, and looks at me intimately, intently with such seriousness.

He asks, “Do you have any idea what it’s like when I come home and walk through that door after a long, hard day?”

I meet his gaze, my brow slightly furrowed, my eyes threatening to tear up from the tenderness of his voice.

Adam continues, “As soon as I walk through that door, I’m flooded with joy. The way the house smells, the dinner, the dessert. I can’t even begin to tell you what it does to me. After a stressful day at the office, I’m met with all those amazing, intoxicating smells. They wrap around me and I’m overcome with happiness and love.”

With shiny eyes and a slight crack in his voice he continues, “And I know I’m home.”

I’m speechless. Stunned by his unexpected, beautiful but unusual expression of emotion. Warm, salty tears lazily stream down my cheeks as I cradle his face in my hands. I knew I might not remember any other detail about that night, but I knew with complete certainty that the look on his face at that moment would forever be burned in my memory.
And just like that, gone were the thoughts of those nights when preparing dinner felt more like work than pleasure—feeling overwhelmed that every, single menu, every single dish had to be documented. Edited. Tested. Re-tested. Or the few, but dreaded, times when fatigue had such a vice grip on my soul that the very last thing I wanted to do at seven o’clock was to break out my All-Clad sauté pan. Those rare, whining evenings when take-out, and God forgive me, even mediocre take-out, was more appealing than my having to produce yet another home-cooked meal.All of that vanished like a thin wisp of smoke on a cool summer breeze. I thought, “This is why I cook. This is why.

A Bolognese (boh-loh-NYEH-zeh) is a thick, full-bodied meat sauce that’s a staple of northern Italy’s Bologna region. It usually contains beef, tomatoes, onion, celery, carrots and garlic and is enhanced with wine, milk and seasonings. It is so delicious, hearty and so completely versatile (you can throw it on just about any pasta. Polenta! Gnocchi!) that you won’t hesitate turning on the stove (even on a warm day) because it will make your house smell so fabulous as it happily bubbles and glurps away. 

Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Spaghetti alla Bolognese
Serves: 6

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 celery stalk, finely minced
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup hearty red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 (29-ounce) can tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
  • pinch of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • Cooked hot spaghetti, for serving

  1. In a large sauté pan or cast-iron skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, season with some salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. Add in the ground beef (I sprinkle it in with my hands) and stir with a wooden spoon to incorporate the vegetables into the meat, breaking up any clumps. Season with more salt and pepper and cook until the beef has browned and is no longer pink. Drain off any fat. Add in the milk and wine and let the mixture bubble away until the liquid has evaporated, stirring frequently. Don’t worry if it looks soupy at first, it will boil down in about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, tomato sauce, sugar, red pepper flakes and oregano. Allow the mixture to simmer on medium-low to low until it’s nice and thick, at least 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat; add the nutmeg and Parmesan and stir well. Toss with hot, cooked spaghetti and serve.

…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen: Planning: This is a lazy-ish version of Bolognese, which makes it perfect for a weeknight, too, when you want something delicious and robust on the table relatively quickly. When developing this recipe, I started the sauce at 7:10 and it was ready by 8 o’clock. Feel free to let it simmer for longer, for an hour or two, if you have the time. It’ll only get better. Just make sure to keep stirring frequently while it barely bubbles. Product Purity: The pinch of nutmeg gives the sauce depth. Make sure to buy whole nutmeg and grate it fresh for the best flavor. Skip the sawdust cheese in the green can and buy a hunk of real Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself. It’s an ingredient upgrade that is life-changing. Look for the authentic cheese with Parmigiano-Reggiano stamped on the rind. Presentation: A fun way to shake things up is to plunk a cast-iron skillet filled with the sauce on the table and serve with bowls of different kinds of plain pasta (angel hair spaghetti, penne) for a help yourself pasta bar. Include hunks of crusty bread or slices of garlic bread and pass an impressively big wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano to let your guests grate it themselves. © 2012 Hutchstone, LLC. All rights reserved.

You might also like:

Mushroom Lasagna

Classic Meatballs and Spaghetti

Creamy Linguine with Bacon and Peas

Content & photography © 2012 Hutchstone, LLC. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Cooking, Entreés, Italian and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Spaghetti alla Bolognese

  1. karryasia says:

    I made this bolognese following your recipe. So so so good!!! Thank you.

  2. kat says:

    That does look picture perfect! It looks amazing!

  3. Jane M says:

    Wow that was a great post! Yummy meal – I’d like to come home to that! I work from home and I’m the cooker – but I know I’m appreciated also!

  4. janice says:

    i meant to type – can i make this with pork?

  5. Sandra Lee says:

    This is one of those, “You had me at hello”, stories. Bolognese will never be the same for me again.

  6. griffinsgrub says:

    What a beautiful story! Love the sound of this recipe. Going to print it off now.

  7. Cucina49 says:

    That looks delicious! Having just returned from Bologna not too long ago, I can also say it looks totally authentic–a lot like a ragu I had there.

  8. Sandra M. says:

    What a beautiful post. It very warm and thoughtful! That what love means, appreciating, comforting, and supporting each other more!
    Great recipe and of course fantastic pics. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words and recipes, I cannot get enough of your stories!

  9. Lori Lynn says:

    Wow Cheryl, that was so beautiful. One of my favorite written posts of all time I have to say.

  10. Oh, that is so incredibly sweet!! My husband says things like that after he comes home from hockey with a bunch of guys hearing about their life problems, lol.

    This dish looks so comforting!

  11. Lynda Bay says:

    Wow! Looks so yum yum..i will really cook this one..this weekend. :) Thanks for sharing.

  12. Awe,you two are so cute. :) I also love to cook dinner for Brian because I love his reaction to it. I make a similar Bolognese and it's one of his most favorite dishes.

  13. Kim Bee says:

    Did you save me a place at the table? I'm on my way and I'm probably gonna want seconds. Just throwing that out there.

  14. Riley says:

    Fun to eat and fun to say! Looks fantastic!

  15. Sook says:

    Oh boy… This is one of my favorite ways to enjoy spaghetti.. I wish I could have a plate of this!

  16. Maggie says:

    Cheryl, this was so beautiful! Home. My husband has said similar things to me in the past and it always makes every single meal I've made so worth it. It feels so good to be appreciated.
    Great meal, another winner recipe. Hope you're having an awesome week!

  17. I love both the story and the recipe.

  18. Anonymous says:

    looks delicious! and such a touching story! I always say that cooking for someone is the perfect way to show love… I'm only 23 but I hope and pray that one day I'll have a husband to cook for who'll appreciate it like yours does!

  19. Janet@FCTC says:

    Nothing to say but “awwww” *wipes eyes…allergies or something. Yeah, that's it. Allergies*

  20. This is one beautiful pasta. It looks delicious! Your photos are absolutely stunning!

  21. Peter Block says:

    this looks fantastic. there is nothing better than a good bolognese. and everyone tries to call it that without the milk – really nice.

  22. The Mom Chef says:

    I felt as though I had intruded on a very intimate family moment and should have turned away as I was reading. I guess knowing both of you made it feel even more so that way. I still have a smile on my face.

    I make a very similar bolognese. Pure comfort food. Our family loves it.