For his birthday dinner, a sixteen-year-old, who shall remain nameless, requested spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, Caesar salad, and my justifiably famous molten chocolate cake. Of course, I was insulted and hurt that he didn’t want my roast duck, or pasta with shrimp and arugula, or any of dozens of dishes that actually are interesting. He did choose an excellent dessert, so he will be allowed to survive another year. He got what he requested, but I wasn’t going to eat meatloaf balls and red sauce. I was going to make Pasta alla Bolognese, served over whatever flat pasta I could find (my cooking skills do not include making fresh pasta). What could be easier? I had forgotten how long it takes to make this dish and how much attention it requires. But I was hell-bent on eating something better, and besides, I already had bragged to my wife that she would love this dish.
Pace, Marcella Hazan, but your recipe for ragù (the meat sauce for the dish) is a pain-in-the-ass. It is also very, very good on a cold, snowy night, with a glass of full-bodied red wine. So I am happy with my ragù recipe. But the little food nerd sitting on my shoulder whispered in my ear, “What about the recipe calling for veal? Or pork? Or Pancetta? Or Prosciutto? Or mushrooms? or…” There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of recipes for this simple meat sauce. And they all look good. The basic idea is simple, and the various recipes play around with the ingredients to accommodate the tastes of the cook. They just take a long time. Try one of these recipes. You will be happy with the results. A word of advice: Make a double batch. It freezes well, and the extra time investment is minimal.