Thirty-five years ago, before the fastest way to a meal was a cup of Ramen noodles, college students made Bolognese sauce. Of course, that’s not what they called it, but no matter. The pots of hamburger-grade ground beef, canned tomatoes and whatever else was on hand were quick and easy variations of sauces that Italian cooks have been serving over pasta for ages.
An authentic Bolognese (named for the Italian city of Bologna, and sometimes called a ragu, from the French word ragout, a hearty stew) is a savory conglomeration of chopped ham, beef, pork, chicken livers, vegetables and wine. To add richness and a sweeter taste, many versions also include milk or cream. Done the right way, Bolognese takes at least 3 1/2 hours to simmer; according to Italian culinary expert Marcella Hazan, Bolognese cooks say it can only be made in their kitchens.
As much as we would have liked to fly to Bologna to cook a pot of sauce, it was out of the question. And so, we decided to do the next best thing. Without leaving home, we made a deliciously meaty Bolognese in only 1 1/2 hours. It has many of the traditional ingredients—ham, pork, vegetables, wine and milk—and is perfect for cheese ravioli or any pasta. We’re even thinking of using it the next time we make lasagna.
Our sauce is a souped-up version of what students once made on their hot plates, and it’s not as instant as Ramen noodles. But it still leaves us wondering why they traded their bowls of spaghetti Bolognese for Styrofoam cups of flavored noodles.
—Jean Kressy, a food writer in Ashburnham, Mass.