I can trace my love of Bolognese all the way back to third grade, when my best friend, who lived across the street, introduced me to what would become one of my favorite meals: SpaghettiOs with Meatballs. As a spaghetti enthusiast, a trail of canned tomato and meat sauces has come along with me ever since, until I eventually reached a destination and found the recipes of Marcella Hazan. A first-generation Italian American immigrant, Hazan can be credited with shaping a generation of Americans’ definitions of Italian food. Cooking her Bolognese recipe for the first time, I discovered pure bliss, an expression of beef and tomato completely transformed after a “lazy simmer,” as she liked to say. Curiously, tasting Hazan’s Bolognese brought me not to Italy but to my own Taiwanese grandma and her fragrant simmered pork sauces poured over fresh noodles or rice. This recipe highlights the commonalities between different cultures. Rice cakes serve as the chewy base for a Bolognese sauce inspired by Hazan, while mixing in ingredients that are love letters to both Italian and Taiwanese tradition.
- PREP THE RICE CAKES: Place the rice cakes in a large bowl and cover with water by 1 inch. Let soak at room temperature for 2 hours, or in the fridge, covered, up to overnight. Drain and set aside.
- MAKE THE BOLOGNESE: In a large pot over medium heat, warm a generous glug of olive oil. Add the onions, carrots, celery, scallions, garlic, and ginger, and cook until the onions are semitranslucent, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork to the pot and cook, stirring and breaking up the chunks of meat, until the beef has browned, about 7 minutes. Stir in the milk and let it simmer until it has evaporated. Using a nutmeg grater or other fine grater, grate 8 zips of nutmeg into the pot. Stir in the white wine and simmer until it has mostly evaporated. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, soy sauce, and tomatoes and increase the heat to bring everything to a light boil, then reduce the heat until it is very gently simmering, where just a burp of a bubble breaks the surface intermittently. Cook, uncovered, for 3 hours, until thickened.
- ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Transfer the Bolognese to a large saucepan, add the rice cakes, and stir-fry for a few minutes, until the rice cakes are soft and cooked through. Divide among four bowls, sprinkle with a light flurry of Parmesan and fresh basil, and serve.