Poppa George’s Winter Bolognese

Each winter I venture across the country to Maryland to visit my friends and family. With my Abuela Marina’s and Poppa George’s birthdays falling around my Mom’s birthday, Winter Solstice, and Christmas all in December we all get together to celebrate the holidays and our family. My grandfather always prepares this Bolognese sauce recipe, and I was always curious where he got the recipe from—and if it had ventured with my family out of Italy.

“Unfortunately the story is not very exciting, ” my grandpa started. In a reply back (below) he noted how my grandmother Marina discovered the recipe in my Italian great-grandmother’s house.

The message of this recipe quickly became a conversation about food and family. Poppa George enjoys making this as a traditional winter meal because,  “it’s as good as there is.”

This recipe, although not directly from my great-great-grandmother, does remind my grandfather of his grandmother, Marina.

This memory of his grandmother–my Italian relative–reminds me of the classic Italian meals that I researched when studying the food culture of Italy. As things  travel they also morph and evolve. When she came to San Francisco she opened the Monte Carlo restaurant, where she showed off her culinary expertise. She only cooked for the family on special occasions, and was a natural cook who could pull anything off. Unfortunately, I have never had the experience of cooking with Marina, or my great-grandmother Rita. Through this recipe I can only imagine what her recipes tasted like at the Monte Carlo–and for the first time, since previously I was a vegetarian before becoming a sustainivore.

Bolognese Meat Sauce

Marcella Hazan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

1. Make your soffritto. Combine

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 C. chopped onion

Once onions are translucent, add

  • 2/3 C. chopped celery
  • 2/3 C. chopped carrot

And cook for a couple more minutes, making sure to coat the celery and carrots in oil. Add,

  • 3/4 pound ground beef chuck**–Poppa George claims that the fat in the chuck is far better than lean ground beef. Chef Hazan also recommends pork in addition.
  • large pinch of salt
  • couple pepper grinds

Break up the meat and stir everything well. Let meat brown, then add,

  • 1 C. whole milk

Let the milk simmer out.



Add in

  • 1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg, stir


  • 1 cup dry white wine–I used Pinot Grigio from Italy, cause I felt it would make it more authentic.

Simmer down, again, similarly to the milk. While simmering, chop

  • 1 1/2 cup (~12 oz.) canned Italian plum tomatoes, cut in with their juice. I suggest San Marzanos.

Stir the tomatoes and juice into the meat, and mix in well. Let this come to a boil, then reduce the temperature to a low boil and allow to simmer for three hours. Yeah, three hours! So pull out a book, maybe snack on something else around the house (dried pluots, anyone?), and maybe clean up your dirty dishes from earlier. Remember to stir every so often.

At the end of the three hours, no water should remain, and the fat  separated from the sauce. Along the way, though, if it does begin to dry out and the fat seperate, stir in 1/2 cup of water.

Taste and correct for salt. Garnish with freshly graded parmigiano-reggiano cheese on top of Ziti pasta. Well, you can use any kind of pasta, but Poppa George always serves Ziti.

This recipe, and food in general, has allowed for my grandfather and I to bond. When I began at the University of San Francisco our relationship was rocky, with family politics complicating everything. Through my new love for food, gardening, and sustainability my grandfather and grandmother and I have been able to find common interest. The most epic of our “foodventures” was definitely  when we went to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA for lunch. Although a short trip across the bay, I had never been to Berkeley before and that trip, and it really opened up my mind to the food culture beyond the bay. I’m hoping that for my graduation we’ll be able to go back to Chez Panisse again, and hopefully run into Alice this time!

**note: this recipe was not intended to promote eating meat as a form of sustainability. I strongly feel that a beef-laden diet, typical of modern America, is not environmentally sustainable, nor good for your body entirely. However, I feel that cultural sustainability is equally as important as the environment. While I could have made Abuela Marina’s vegetarian guacamole, the lack of tomatoes and avocados in season at the Farmers’ Market caused hesitation. Just know this, a Sustainivore is constantly assessing the impacts of the food they eat. This meal features chuck purchased at Faletti Food’s from Five Dot Ranch. I tried to buy the most local, sustainable chuck possible for this meal that satisfied the recipe, my wallet, and my eating preference.**


About Brittany

I am an Environmental Studies graduate from the University of San Francisco. That's where the inspirational fire sparked--through the Garden Project, Back to da Roots, and How-to-Homestead. From there my knowledge of the food system, the environment, and San Francisco has grown immensely, and I have found myself healthier and happier than ever! I continue to blend the world of urban, natural, and technological. Urban homesteader, gardener, experimental home chef, environmentalist, foodie, and explorer. I look for the good stuff in San Francisco and can guide you along your own personal exploration, as well!
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10 Responses to Poppa George’s Winter Bolognese

  1. PB & J says:

    This was so delish, Brittany!!! And that picture of grandpa- I mean are you kidding- it doesn’t get any better!!!! Also, I thought it was smart to put the disclaimer note about the meat.

  2. mattyice238 says:

    Those pictures of your poppa george are just awesome! I love that he uses the Ipad and embraces technology, reminds me of my grandpa. Great recipe!

  3. sophiamiles says:

    super yummy. I love pasta and especially bolognese and your g-pa’s recipe was no exception! I think the fact that it was well raised meat may have added something too 🙂

  4. jcgiacomi says:

    I really liked this Bolognese sauce. I am usually kind of picky about meat sauces but I really liked this one. I also really like the photo of your poppa and how all his emails are sent from his ipad. I’m glad that this recipe helped you get closer to grandfather. I really enjoyed learning about this recipe and the heritage of it.

  5. AuntieNi says:

    This project/posting turned out great, B. The pix are beautiful to look at, and really capture the ingredients, process and final product; your text teased out the story behind the recipe in a compelling way– so interesting to see how you were able to weave that together from all those emails. (And, I love that you included, and that others noticed, that he was giving you all this detail on the go, from his iPad. Ya know, he’s always ‘gotten’ technology– he was flying helicopters when they were barely out of the stone age, after all– but it’s great to see how new media access points can support personal narrative in such a way is really compelling.) Great work, and super-inspiring!

  6. Chris Chef says:

    Dude this blog post is for real good.

    “Through this recipe I can only imagine what her recipes tasted like at the Monte Carlo–and for the first time, since previously I was a vegetarian before becoming a sustainivore.”

    I really got a sense of who you are and I learned a lot about you family. I am debating on whether I should get an eyebrow stylist to do me up like you gpaw.

    The last pic makes me hungry. I guess that would be mission accomplished. I’m not Italian but I am thinking of converting.

    Are there any variations to the recipe? Do you think that it would be good with ground turkey (from a farmers market of course)?

    • Brittany says:

      The Divisadero Farmers Market offers turkey, lamb, wild boar, and other meats. I was curious if they would work as well. I’d imagine not turkey, since you use chuck over ground beef for the fat content.

      I have heard of adding pork, though; 2 parts pork to 1 part chuck. Bacon, perhaps?

  7. katedarden says:

    Brittany this recipe is fantastic and you did such a great job and incorporating your family story and the actual recipe. I loved the email conversation/family discussion because my family totally does the same thing.

  8. Nick Ryan says:

    Oh my. I loved this bolognese. I’ve had many family members cook their own bolognese before but this was something special. Your grandfather knows what is up. The sauce was just right, not to tomatoe-y and not to meaty. Perfect combo. The vegetable stock definitely gives a lot of great flavor to the sauce. I definitely want to make some of this for me and my roommates.

    And I kinda wish my comment was gonna end with…”Sent from my iPad” haha

  9. lizinsf820 says:

    Your grandfather’s bolognese sauce was delish! Your pictures are beautiful. They do a good job at explaining the steps that might need a little bit more instruction. I would totally make this with like ground turkey, or even boca burger crumbles!

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