Recipe Review

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce Confirms She’s the Queen of Italian Cooking

updated Feb 5, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Headshot: Barbara Banks

If you’ve never heard of Marcella Hazan, please allow me to give you a brief introduction. Marcella was an Italian-born food writer and is known as the queen of Italian cooking. She’s credited with bringing authentic Italian food to the U.S., and wrote several Italian cookbooks. Her first, The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating, was inducted into the James Beard Foundation Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2000. And while many people know her for her famous tomato sauce, I’m here today to talk about her (equally delicious) Bolognese.

Marcella’s Bolognese recipe is the version Italians make in their homes. She uses the base aromatics of onion, carrots, and celery; she cooks the vegetables with ground chuck; and she uses whole milk instead of heavy cream. Just one bite proves why sometimes it’s best not to mess with the original. Her Bolognese is utterly perfect.

There’s just something special about this sauce. It’s almost inexplicable how this specific method with these ingredients creates the flavor it does — “this dish sings” is the best way I can think to describe it. The flavor it achieves is nuanced and completely unique in comparison to the other recipes I tested.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

How to Make Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese

You’ll begin by cooking the onion in a mixture of vegetable oil and butter until translucent. Add the celery and carrots and cook for about 2 minutes, then add the ground chuck, season with salt and pepper, and cook, breaking up the meat, until just cooked through. Add the whole milk and simmer until completely evaporated, then stir in freshly grated nutmeg, followed by white wine. Simmer until evaporated, then stir in canned chopped tomatoes and their juices and simmer very gently for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. You can add water during the cooking process, but by the end “no water at all must be left and the fat must separate from the sauce.”

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

My Honest Review of Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese

This was, hands-down, the winner of this showdown. It’s light, bright, and absolutely delicious — a far cry from the heavy tomato-based versions of Bolognese. The ingredients come together in a way that is both flavorful and puzzling. How can this taste so good? It’s more chunky than saucy, and the whole milk cooks down and adds an almost caramel-like essence that keeps your palate delighted and coming back for more. The little bit of nutmeg also makes a huge impact. This dish is 100 percent worth the time it takes to make. 

Even though there’s a full cup of wine in the recipe, it’s given more than enough time to cook out, and the end result never tasted wine-y. The tomatoes have ample time to cook down as well, so they’re able to add flavor without taking over the dish. After I tasted this recipe, I immediately purchased Marcella’s cookbook Marcella Cuisina.

Rating: 10/10

Credit: Amelia Rampe

More Marcella Hazan Recipes We Love

At this point in our recipe reviews we typically offer suggestions on how to improve the recipe, but I wouldn’t dare offer one here. You can’t mess with perfection! Instead, I’ll share some other Marcella recipes we love (plus one from her son).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell; Headshots From Left to Right: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images, Noam Galai/Getty Images, Barbara Banks, Food & Wine

Have you ever made Marcella Hazan’s bolognese sauce? Tell us what you thought below!