A special contribution post from my beautiful mother, below.
On a personal note, my Italian American heritage means so much to me and among many things, has brought a richness of culture to my family. My father has instilled in us the importance of family, the spirit of generosity, as well as tenacity and fire to educate and accomplish one’s goals.
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Nonna Carmela and her Ragu Bolognese
If you were to describe one recipe that defines the cooking of my husband’s family, it would be Ragu Bolognese. It is probably the classic recipe of Romagna. Over the years, I watched my Mother-in-Law quickly whip up this Ragu and serve it with all kinds of pasta, polenta, gnocchi and passatelli. At Christmas time it would be served with cappelletti stuffed with chicken breast, pork and Parmesan cheese. On a cold winter evening she might pour it over slices of polenta which were sautéed in butter. Almost every day, she would roll out sheets of egg pasta and cut it into ribbons of tagliatelle for the mid day meal. It was the sauce of choice when making lasagna.
The every day version that I normally make is so simple that anyone can make it in less than 45 minutes. There are other versions, of course, where one can simmer down additions of milk, wine and broth to obtain layer upon layer of intense flavor. These are for the grand banquet and are well worth the daylong effort it takes to make them.
There is no written version of my Mother-in-Law’s recipe. She, by her own admission, never owned a cookbook or read a recipe in a book. Every one of the many wonderful dishes she prepared came from tradition, was measured by “occhio” and flavored by taste.
Nonna Carmela lost her husband in WWII and was left with four children. Her great challenge in a post war Italy where there was no food, was to feed and care for these children. When I first met her after my first child was born, she never tired of telling me of these years of struggle. I was young then and sometimes tired of these endless tales of hardship and difficulty. Later, I realized she was like a soldier reliving great battles fought and won.
Her ingredients were not exotic or fancy. A trip to the market with Nonna Carmela would reveal a careful and astute shopper and bargainer. An extra carrot or piece of celery thrown into the deal would flavor her sauce the next day.
Food and the preparation of food was a sacred effort for Nonna Carmela. It was a thing of great pride to her to produce a dish of perfect taste. She put into it all the care and energy of the greatest of artists.
So here it is, as it has evolved with me in my home married to an Italian who is now and American. It is one of my favorite recipes. When I make it I always think of Nonna Carmela.
Nonna Carmela’s Ragu Bolognese
3-4 T olive oil
1 onion chopped fine
1-2 carrots chopped fine
1-2 stalks of celery chopped fine
Sauté these vegetables until soft but not brown.
1 # mixture of ground beef, veal and pork (You can use all beef.)
Cook meat mixture with vegetables until no pink but not more.
You can add a small amount of salt and a few grindings of Nutmeg at this point if you like. Do not oversalt as the broth has some salt in it.
1+ cup of broth
4 T tomato paste
1 T Better than Bouillon
Add liquid and simmer until sauce thickens.
Parmesan Cheese grated
It is essential that you grate Parmesan Cheese over whatever pasta you serve your sauce with.