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Italian lesson

Today, April 15, would have been Marcella Hazan's 90th birthday. In honor of all she taught us with her passionate and inspirational cooking, I'm reposting what I wrote when she passed away.


Earlier this week, Marcella Hazan died. She was 89 years old. A biologist turned cookbook writer and educator, she can be credited with introducing Americans to authentic Italian cooking.

Her food was simple but executed with the attention of an intense perfectionist. Reading her recipes provide as much critical information about techniques as they do ingredients.

Of her many repeat-worthy quotes, I love in particular that she said: The best ingredient in the kitchen is common sense.  

Yesterday, I made her bolognese. It's a five-hour sauce of uncomplicated ingredients.

Her original recipe includes cooking tips, such as:

The meat must be sautéed just barely long enough to lose its raw color. It must not brown or it will lose delicacy.

Use a fork to break the meat into crumbs.

The meat must be cooked in milk before the tomatoes are added. This keeps the meat creamier and sweeter tasting.

I served the sauce on fresh pappardelle and opened a bottle of Vino Noceto 2010 Sangiovese.   

An indigenous grape to Italy, Vino Noceto Sangiovese is made in Amador Valley, California. Marcella's husband, Victor Hazan, has written extensively on Italian Wine, but I decided to pair a California-grown version.

Vino Noceto Sangiovese is juicy and delicate with lots of cherry. It was lovely with the slightly sweet and creamy bolognese. A meal to truly feed the soul.

A little more on Sangiovese
Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh), is the most widely-cultivated red wine grape in Italy, with more than 12 different clones grown in various regions. The wine can trace its history back to Roman times. Chianti and Chianti Classico are two prime examples of wines made with Sangiovese grapes. A full-bodied wine with medium to soft tannins, Sangiovese is a very food friendly.

Marcella Hazan's Bolognese
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup chopped onion
2/3 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup chopped carrot
¾ pound ground beef chuck
Fresh ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine (but I used Vino Noceto Sagiovese)
1-½ cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, torn into pieces, with juice
1-¼ to 1-½ pounds pasta (I used pappardelle), cooked and drained
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese at the table


1. Put oil, 3 tablespoons butter and chopped onion in a heavy 3-½-quart pot and turn heat to medium. Cook and stir onion until it has become translucent, then add chopped celery and carrot. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring vegetables to coat well.

2. Add ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Crumble meat with a fork, stir well and cook until beef has lost its raw, red color.

3. Add milk and let simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely. Add a tiny grating, about 1/8 teaspoon, fresh nutmeg and stir.

4. Add wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Add tomatoes and stir thoroughly to coat all ingredients well. When tomatoes begin to bubble, turn heat down so that sauce cooks at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through the surface.

5. Cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours (5 hours if you're able), stirring from time to time. While sauce is cooking, you are likely to find that it will begin to dry out and the fat will separate from the meat. To keep it from sticking, add ½ cup water as necessary. At the end of cooking, however, the water should be completely evaporated and the fat should separate from the sauce. Taste and correct for salt.

6. Add remaining tablespoon butter to the hot pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan on the side.


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