Sometimes you just have to make things the way you want them to be. And that would go for Bolognese sauce. Many American cooks my age, unless they were blessed with an Italian nonna, were raised with red sauce with meat and spaghetti because that’s what there was and it was cheap. Meatballs might show up on a big day. That’s what there still is if you go down to most of the local, inexpensive Italian places across the U.S. They also usually make a pizza the town adores or eats anyway along with a bottle of cheap chianti for date night and American beer on tap for the rest of the time.
Soldiers returning from Italy after World War II brought with them their desire for the foods of a grateful but war-torn nation. Enterprising immigrants opened restaurants providing the soldiers with the foods they had developed a craving for and introduced the soldiers’ families to spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers, ravioli, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti and pizza.
Throughout the 50s and 60s, Italian food was becoming a part of the American diet and delicatessens offered salami, capocollo, mortadella, pepperoni, mozzarella and provolone, while spumone was a popular dessert, and variations of minestrone abounded. During the 70s and 80s, many Italian-inspired regional dishes became popular in America — Eggplant Parmigiana, Fettuccini Alfredo, Penne alla Vodka, Shrimp Scampi, Chicken Piccata, Chicken Cacciatore, Steak Pizzaiola, Osso Buco, Veal Marsala, Pasta Primavera, Fried Calamari, Saltimbocca, Caponata, Calzone and Stromboli. Grissini, semolina bread, risotto, broccoli rabe, arugula, radicchio, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta, olive oil, pesto, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes, pizzelle, cannoli, zeppole, torrone, gianduja, panettone and espresso were common additions to meals.
I’ve had a hankering for pasta lately. Last week, Dave and I stopped for lunch at Panino’s –one of our local red sauce joints, albeit with the largest variety of panini I’ve ever seen — and he couldn’t believe I ordered a plate of spaghetti and meat sauce. “What?” I simply craved it. It was absolutely edible, but it didn’t satisfy the hunger for what I really wanted on the menu: bolognese.If I get a hankering for fresh pasta and Bolognese, then I just have to make myself. (Especially if Emily’s coming home for a few days.) I learned to cook sauce in a few places. I had an aunt who learned from the Italian restaurant down below her Chicago apartment and passed a few tidbits onto me. Of course I watched my mom, who made the best Irish spaghetti around with her home-canned tomatoes. I also worked in an Italian restaurant nearly all the way through college, but mostly I read Marcella Hazan. THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK was published in 1973, which was the year before Dave and I married, and it was updated in 1992. Combined at that point with MORE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING, it then became ESSENTIALS OF CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKING. They’re perfect, pleasant, loving, precise, and delicious tomes dedicated to just exactly how to do that Italian thing the way it should be done. Read this NYT article for more info on my talented long-distance, long-time mentor, who by the way never wrote in English. Her dear husband translated all of her work. Continue reading