The Lexingtonienne



People are often surprised to learn that my husband, Mr. Duffy, is just as Italian as he is Irish. His grandmother was Eleanora Onorato Duffy, and her parents were fresh off the boat Italians. I always wanted to be Italian, and finally, I’m Italian-in-law!

Every time I visit Philadelphia with Mike, we go to the Italian market on 9th Street, where they have shops full of freshly made pasta, gorgeous mozzarella (“mootzarell” is how they pronounce it), rabbits and lambs hanging in windows sans skin (sick, but it sure feels Italian-y), more varieties of olives than I knew existed, and delightfully stinky cheeses hanging from ceilings. Eleanora’s grandchildren are at home at the Italian market.

And as you may know from watching The Sopranos, Americans of Italian descent have a vocabulary all their own. The Duffys speak it fluently.

They say something that sounds like “gadamahd” for calamari (????), they call pasta sauce “gravy” (which, for a Southerner, is downright confusing), and they refer to plain old Americans like me as “Medigans” (say it aloud and think of the word Americans). Whatever. This Medigan doesn’t care what you call her, as long as you pass-a the ravioli.

While I have sampled many an Italian delight at the Duffy dinner table — brigole, vongole, Italian wedding soup — it is my mother-in-law, Maggie Baxter Duffy, whose family tree grows roots in Ireland and Germany and who hails from Ohio, whose bolognese recipe really takes the torta della nonna.

When Mike and I were engaged, Maggie hosted a shower for us in Philadelphia. For dinner one night that weekend, she served her spaghetti alla bolognese. It was, in short, exactly the spaghetti with meat sauce I had been hoping for my entire life. Look, my Kentucky mama made some darn good spaghetti when I was a kid, and it was she who made the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe a classic. Mama can cook. But when it comes to bolognese, my mother-in-law’s sauce is, no joke, the Holy Grail.

For years I had assumed that meat sauce, as we Medigans call it, was marinara sauce with some hamburger dumped in. Past-Self, you’re such an amateur.

Bolognese is about the meat, and there happens to be some tomato thrown in. If you’re being authentic, your bolognese will often consist of beef, pork, and veal. Not being quite so authentic (What did you expect from a Medigan?) I generally just do very lean beef or turkey.

Mike, I sure hope nothing ever happens to you… but if it does, I’m going to marry this sauce. I mean this “gravy.”

Below is Maggie Duffy’s wonderful, amazing, unbelievably delicious bolognese recipe, with a few tiny modifications. The Fotokissen bedrucken is my gift to you. While measurements are listed, I recommend eyeballing it. It’s fine. Also, remember to season with salt & pepper throughout.


1 medium red onion
2 medium-sized carrots
1 stalk of celery
3-4 strips of bacon (Italians use pancetta. Italians-in-law can substitute bacon, which actually lends a very nice smokiness. If your meat counter sells the thick cut applewood smoked kind, use that.)
1 1/3 pound of lean ground turkey or beef (Maggie’s original recipe calls for just 3/4 pound. I use more because my grocery sells it in that amount. Use anything in that range and everything will be gravy. Get it?)
2 T tomato paste
1 large can peeled and diced tomatoes
1/2 C dry white wine
a few pinches of ground nutmeg
3/4 C beef broth
3/4 C heavy cream (You can use half-&-half or milk, but it’s not my first choice and I don’t recommend it when you’re having company over. Just don’t tell them about the cream; they’ll never know.)

Cut bacon into small pieces, saute and discard excess fat. Chop half the onion. Saute in butter & olive oil. Chop carrots, celery, and remaining onion in food processor. Add to sauteed onion in the pot and cook for a few more minutes. Add ground meat and a pinch of nutmeg and saute til browned. Stir in tomato paste. Add wine, cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, cook for about 20 minutes. Add another pinch of nutmeg and beef stock, cook about 45 minutes. Add heavy cream, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

The beauty of this sauce is that when your husband, who gets tired of you making this all the time, goes out of town, you can make yourself a big batch of it and devour it every single night while he is gone! It reheats beautifully. It’s also a wonderful main course to serve when you have company. You can make the sauce earlier in the day and then it will patiently hang out on the stove while you clean up the kitchen, drink wine with your guests all no-big-deal style, and act like your life is soooo easy and fun. Which it is.

Buon appetito,



  • Comment by Sarah Albright Berry — June 2, 2010 @ 8:52 am

    Yummy!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Comment by Dana — June 2, 2010 @ 11:15 am


    Loving your new blog! And someday when I am able to retire…I hope to try some of these recipes. In the meantime, I am enjoying your writing and humor. And the photography is amazing, especially those pics of that handsome grandson of mine, Liam.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Comment by The Marinaccio — June 2, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

    Where do we line up for leftovers?

  • Comment by Maggie Duffy — June 2, 2010 @ 2:55 pm

    You and your blog are wonderful!!!….I never thought I would laugh so much @ a recipe. I agree with you….this sauce is something I could eat every day (and then spend 2 hours on the elliptical)…………..keep ’em comin’

  • Comment by jeff — June 2, 2010 @ 3:14 pm

    seriously. no more visiting ‘The Lex’ on an empty stomache.

  • Comment by pat tierney — June 2, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

    What a treat to read your blog and enjoy the third generation of Hopkins’ writing…. your grandparents, Larry and Carolyn; your Mom and Uncle Josh; and you!!!I don’t know the Duffy’s well enough,but safe to say there is a writing/comic gene there too. I am enjoying every word and photograph. Thanks Hannah. How happy am I, being 100% Italian and married to a Tierney(that’s another story)to read about your introduction to an Italian family from Philly! Can’t wait for more.Did the moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie?

  • Comment by Colleen — June 2, 2010 @ 6:29 pm

    Hannah ~ I adore your blog! Thank you for so much enjoyment! Yes, Mom’s bolognese is fabulous and I can’t wait to try yours.

  • Comment by Shae — June 3, 2010 @ 5:36 am

    Appreciate the kind shout-out. xxo, your mama

  • Comment by Danny — June 3, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    I’m biting my phone in hopes I get a little italian flavor…I’m starving. What’s the odds if I double click on a picture (are you even supposed to double click anymore?) it’ll be ready when I get home. Mise well try…you rule.

  • Comment by Hayley — June 7, 2010 @ 11:40 am

    Hannah! I happened to check your blog the other day right before a trip to the grocery store, and I decided to give this recipe a try. OMG — AMAZING. Seriously, I think Mike and I have found a new favorite. Thanks so much for sharing! I love your blog.

  • Pingback by Oh Baby - The Lexingtonienne — July 13, 2010 @ 11:16 am

    […] to come over and meet Owen, I made the new parents a big batch of my mother-in-law’s famous bolognese sauce and a loaf of sour cream chocolate chip cake. They totally fell for my […]

  • Comment by Pam — July 18, 2010 @ 8:59 am

    Okay so I’m making this sauce as we speak. However, I’m a bit out of sorts because the recipe doesn’t call for any garlic…am I crazy or should a pasta sauce have garlic? Perhaps I’m just an ignorant American and not all sauces contain garlic? Anyway, gonna see how it turns out!

  • Comment by Hannah — July 18, 2010 @ 10:34 am

    You will NOT miss garlic in this sauce. Incidentally, the tomato sauce recipe I posted (with just tomatoes, butter, and onion) does not have garlic either, and it’s from Marcella Hazan – the Julia Child of Italian cooking. So maybe there is something we Americans don’t know??? Anyway, serve this with garlic bread on the side. 🙂

  • Pingback by The “Medigan” Makes Turkey Meatballs - The Lexingtonienne — August 25, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

    […] and vegetables — I decided on turkey meatballs. This is mildly dangerous territory for a Medigan, making my Italian husband a dish for which he has specific expectations and for which I have very […]

  • Comment by Wendy — January 28, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    Just made this last night! YUMMY!! Thank you as always!!

  • Pingback by Fettuccine With Beef & Mushroom Ragu - The Lexingtonienne — October 10, 2012 @ 8:57 am

    […] of a recipe for Beef & Mushroom Ragu. Less time-consuming than my all-time favorite recipe for Bolognese Sauce (pdf) that I got from my mother-in-law (which you must make, only perhaps on a Sunday), this ragu […]

  • Pingback by Easiest Dinners Ever: Homemade Taco Seasoning and Homemade Tacos - The Lexingtonienne — May 17, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    […] item out of the refrigerator and freezer and completely sanitized the interior. I’ve frozen bolognese sauce (pdf) for a future dinner. And I have even done […]

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.