Food Relationships

Recipe for Romance

Cooking together can bring couples closer-and make the whole family happy.

by J.M. McKeel, Army spouse

Every couple has their system. Ours is divide-and-conquer: My wife Jen and I work best together when we split up the steps to get something accomplished. She’ll drive, while I navigate and try to quell the kids. I keep the vehicles maintained, but she packs for the trip. I’ll cook dinner, while she’s doing other things. But there is one dish that really brings us together-Ragù alla Bolognese.

When we were newlyweds, I worked long hours and she carried a heavy course load at Arizona State University. My office was near her campus, so we met for lunch at least once a week. Our special place was a little cafe called Focaccia Fiorentina.

The wait staff all wore white aprons. The lunch service was quick without making you feel rushed. The menu was short, but each dish was perfectly pitched. I still get a warm, fuzzy feeling when I think about drinking their bubbly lemonade on the misty patio, shaded from the oppressive Arizona heat.

Our favorite dish there was a rustic stew so finely cut and melded that it was more like a sauce, served over pasta like rigatoni or penne. That Ragù alla Bolognese made us loyal customers, often dragging soon-to-be converts along with us to lunch or dinner. But to our dismay, one day the restaurant was suddenly closed. We were left shocked and hungry. Almost immediately, we set about mentally separating ingredients in our collective memory. We hunted for similar recipes online, eventually perfecting our own version.

We make it together: Jen monitors the “doneness” at each stage before stirring in the next ingredient. She browns the meat, draining it if it’s too greasy just before it gets too done. Meanwhile, to preserve the volatile flavors of the vegetables, I mound my cutting board with diced or julienned veggies, mincing herbs just in time to be stirred into the pot. Working side by side, we get a chance to interact beyond our daily family routines. “How’s your day?” or disciplining the kids takes a back seat to just working together.

This is a long, slow recipe, perfect for a Sunday afternoon. It takes hours, but it pays off: We feel more connected and our kids, even the baby, love this dish when it’s done. Best of all, these hours ?we spend in the kitchen together always help us remember why we’re there in the first place.

So, from our house to yours, mangia bene! (Recipe on Next Page)

Ragù alla Bolognese


4 cups beef broth

2 tbsp. tomato paste

½ cup heavy cream

3 whole cloves

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

5 oz. bacon, finely chopped

½ medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 ribs of celery, finely chopped

½ medium carrot, finely chopped

1 lb. ground beef ?

1 lb. ground pork

¼ tsp. fresh nutmeg

1 cup dry white wine


1. Bring beef broth to a simmer, then stir into the tomato paste until fully dissolved. Set aside.

2. Bring the cream almost to a boil with the cloves in it, then remove from heat and set aside (once below 110° F, place in the fridge) for 1 hour. Remove cloves from the cream, reserving the cream.

3. In a large pot, melt butter into the olive oil over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until nearly done, about 10 minutes at medium-high heat. Then add onion, celery and carrots, cooking until translucent, about 20 minutes at medium-high heat.

4. Add the ground beef, cooking until none of the meat is red. Then add the ground pork, cooking fully until pork takes on a whitish color.

5. Stir in the nutmeg. If you want to add any julienned peppers, mushrooms or other additional vegetables, do so now. Once the mixture becomes fragrant with the spices, stir in the wine and cook off the alcohol, reducing heat to medium or medium-low, about 10 minutes.

6. Add the beef broth over the next 2 hours, about 1/2 cup at a time every 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust heat to maintain a simmer rather than a boil, reducing the liquid.

7. Add the cream at 30-minute intervals, around an eighth of a cup at a time, stirring until fully incorporated. After 2 hours, adjust the seasoning to taste with salt and or pepper. Lower heat to keep the sauce warm, or serve immediately over pasta cooked al dente and tossed with butter and freshly grated parmesan cheese.


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