Anaïs Nin and a classic Italian Bolognese sauce

“Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.” Anaïs Nin

I love this quotation from one of the diaries of Anaïs Nin. Perhaps I love it because I’m prone to excess, especially when it comes to feelings – sorrow, joy, love, pain, longing, hunger (the metaphoric and the other kind), and even responsibility.  I’ve often wished I could dial down the volume on my own feelings. But perhaps that’s neither realistic nor desirable?

Anaïs Nin, whose full name was Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmel, was born in France in 1903, to Cuban parents. She started keeping a diary when she was eleven-years-old and kept going until just before she died in 1977 making her one of the most dedicated diarists in history. She also wrote novels, essays, short stories, and erotica. Nin spent her early life in France and moved to the United States as an adult. She is regarded as one of the most brilliant minds in modern history.

Nin believed that emotional excess was crucial to creativity. I find this fantastically reassuring. She said, “You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications.”

I hope she was right. Moderation in everything – except perhaps in feelings?

You’ll want to use moderation though, when you eat this Bolognese sauce. It is intensely, remarkably rich and robust. The Japanese term, umami, is the word that came to my mind when I tried this dish – full of deep, savoury flavour. The recipe comes from American food writer Kathleen Flinn’s immensely readable book, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry – the story of her culinary training at the Cordon Bleu Institute in Paris, where she learned, under the intense scrutiny of a series of critical French chefs, to cut perfect 7-sided carrots (for reasons I do not understand) and make a million heavy, rich French sauces  This Bolognese sauce was not one of them. It was a dish that a fellow student brought to an after-hours party. I was full of admiration for a pasta sauce that required a full bottle of Chianti.

I rarely cook with this much meat anymore and I apologize for yet another meat recipe. In fact – I eat mostly vegetarian except when I’m cooking for others. This dish is definitely one for sharing.

Pasta Bolognese

  • Servings: 4-6 at minimum
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

You’ll need a serious heavy-duty saucepan or preferably a Dutch oven.

  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds extra lean ground beef
  • 1 bottle Chianti or other dry red wine
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Italian herbs (I used dried oregano)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste, at least 1/4 teaspoon of each (I used closer to 1 tsp of salt)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or basil
  • 1 pound spaghetti, cooked & drained or any other pasta you like – I used gluten-free brown rice fettuccine but I think penne would be fantastic
  • freshly grated Parmesan
  • I also added a jar of Newman’s classic tomato sauce because I found the dish just too meaty without it

In a heavy-bottomed large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the onions in olive oil over medium heat until softened.  Stir in the garlic, add the beef, and stir until the meat cooks through and separates into crumbly pieces.  Add the wine and turn the heat up so that the wine bubbles continuously. I was doubtful but I poured it all in anyway. Keep cooking until the volume is reduced by about half – at which the mixture will be quite thick. Skim off any gray foam (I didn’t see any gray foam – thank goodness).  Add the tomato paste and stir.  Cover and turn the heat down very low, and cook for a minimum of two hours and up to four hours. (At some point during this time, I added a jar of tomato sauce – not part of the recipe but because this was just looking way too beefy for my taste. Next time – I would also add grated carrots while the beef was cooking.) Stir from time to time, scraping the bottom to ensure that nothing sticks to it or burns.  Shortly before serving, turn the heat to medium-low and stir in the cream and Italian herbs.  Taste, and then add salt and pepper.  Cook, uncovered another ten minutes.  Taste again, adjusting seasonings as necessary, and stir in the parsley.  Serve with pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan.



26 thoughts on “Anaïs Nin and a classic Italian Bolognese sauce

    1. Thank you for your comment and you’re right – pretty sure this is serious man-food! Anais Nin left us an incredibly rich and interesting social record. And I love what she says about feelings.

    1. Nancy! So happy to see you!!! 🙂
      You can get this up to the point where you reduce the wine and then transfer to the slow-cooker but if you don’t do that – it will be too sloppy and you won’t get that incredibly rich layering of flavour.
      Come and see me – I have a guest bedroom. I’ll get Liz over too. xo

  1. Oh Lindy, this is gorgeous. I actually would love to make this. It’s perfect for the cooler temperatures. Never apologize for meat dishes. I’ll have to get this book! I love Anais Nin, though I had no idea she was Cuban. I actually used to be a victim of my emotions sometimes. They would overwhelm me, but as I grew up and accepted that feelings come to me like truths, but not to treat them as such, I treat them more like a visitor, I became a lot less overwhelmed. There is something in that that drives the artist. You don’t want to reign it in too much. This dish is perfectly excessive and I love it. What I would probably do is drink a bottle of wine while eating it. Now we’re in business. I heart this post.

    1. Dear dear Amanda. Sometimes I think I’ll quit blogging. And then I hear from you. And I keep going for a while longer.
      I once had someone tell me it was childish to feel emotions so deeply. Now I think it’s actually just remarkably human. When I was on a writing retreat in Vermont, Ed Hirsch, former President of the Guggenheim Foundation, was the visiting poet. His writing craft lecture was so intense and so beautiful that I was reduced to tears. He told me such emotions were a gift. I try to remember this!
      Oh yes, the pasta – it really is a worthwhile dish. Kathleen Flinn writes eloquently about it in her book.
      Heart your comment and you!

      1. What a meaningful complement. Yours to me and Hirsch’s to you. It really is a remarkable trait and a gift. I know people who seem incapable of deep feeling and that makes me a little sad. As long as it’s not destructive or you learn how to function and not be blown over like waves (odd that Nin uses the same metaphor I always think about) then it’s a useful gift. Don’t stop blogging! I need to do a post on all the wonderful food writing I’ve recently discovered. It’s unbelievable. xo heart you too 🙂

      2. I love that Amanda – the idea of not being blown over or knocked down by the waves. It’s a useful thing to remember when you are feeling swamped – that you can ride the waves instead of fighting with them. I love sea metaphors!! xo

  2. Umami, yes definitely. That Bolognese just oozes umami. It looks so delicious, I don’t eat meat every day or even every week but I would love a bowl of that sauce and some pasta right about now.

    1. Thanks Suzanne – it’s funny about meat. I think we are all mostly less and less attracted to it. But I did like this sauce very much and would definitely do it again. Don’t you just love the word umami – you know when something oozes umami – you’re going to just love it.

  3. I’ve known people who live and react with intensity and those that live with the minimum of emotion. I think it would be so sad to get to the end of life and realize that there could have been more…darkness balanced by brilliance–loneliness balanced by great friendship, loss balanced by euphoric love–and hunger balanced by excess in satisfaction. This sauce promises to be memorable…and you can always balance the excess by a long run on a starlit night.

  4. Grief! It’s years since I’ve read anything by Anaïs Nin – you’re making me feel old. 🙂 And I didn’t even realise she lived in the States. I’ve only ever read about her life in France, outside Paris (I think). Anyway, I haven’t eaten meat in ages now. But more recently I’ve been hankering after the occasional meaty dish. Especially the thought of roasted sausages, the proper trad type. I’m guessing that’s the change in seasons. Having written that, I’m eating loads of hummus and salad. Oh well, one of these days I’ll try an authentic bolognese – for the first time (preferably without the booze).

    1. Sorry Johnny – for making you feel old! Did you read Anaïs Nin at school? We certainly didn’t. Although just today I dug out my copy of The Grapes of Wrath and noticed that it was my (very old) high school copy. So at least we read Steinbeck and he remains one of my absolute favourite writers. I got to Anaïs Nin later in life.
      Re the sausages – when I came back to Canada after living in Australia – I missed the Australian climate so much and just hated Canadian winters. But now, as I get older, I think one of the beautiful things about the seasons is the joy of changing things up in the kitchen. I like the slow-cooked stews and soups and casseroles (and toad-in-the-hole) – the things I wouldn’t dream of cooking all summer.

  5. Oh my goodness Lindy! I have been daydreaming about bolognese for two weeks. Normally I follow a Tessa Kiros recipe which calls for a cinnamon stick to simmer in the sauce. It’s actually quite nice, however…a full bottle of chianti sounds much more interesting! I am going to make your sauce this weekend. When your page loaded I gasped in delight and instantly formulated my dinner plan for Saturday. I have never tried gluten free rice noodles. I imagine it is lighter and easier to digest. How does the texture hold up with this sauce? Your post has created an urge to buy a copy of Kathleen Flinn’s book, as well as re-reading The Grapes of Wrath and I certainly could use a good dose of Anaiis Nin. Currently I am so deprived of time to sit and read. Thank goodness the season is changing and I won’t be feeling the tug to get outside and do something (work). Time to settle down and read. Love this!

    1. Seana – do you know how happy I am that you are back! SO happy.
      As for the noodles – I prefer regular wheat noodles. In fact – I love pasta. But I’m keeping up with my mostly wheat free diet because my migraines are so much better. I miss wheat though.
      That said, rice noodles are a surprisingly good substitute. Brown rice noodles hold up well. As for lighter – hmm – possibly slighter but I don’t think so. Vietnamese rice stick noodles are lighter but they are more fragile and I don’t think would hold up particularly well.
      I hope you love this sauce. I couldn’t resist it either when I read that a whole bottle of wine goes in!
      Also hope you get some down time soon – and manage to do some reading. The Kathleen Flinn book (The Sharper Your Knife…) is a compelling read. I read a chapter a night and thoroughly enjoyed it. I took her first out of the library and wasn’t as crazy about it. She has a new one – but it’s not in my local library yet….

  6. This looks fantastic and so glad you enjoyed Kathleen’s book.

    I love the thoughts on emotion and feelings. I am definitely prone to excess feelings too so it is nice to read that they should be left to flow and nourish us.

    1. Stacey – thank you and so glad you introduced us to Kathleen Flinn! I hope you post about what you learned in her writing class (must go peruse the reader next to see if you’ve done that…). I love that you’re prone to excess feelings as well. I’m in excellent company then! 😉

  7. I’m so bad with my hyped up emotions…I have found myself throughout my life apologizing for the way I feel, many, many times. I can’t say that I’m overly emotional…but when I feel, I feel deep… If that makes sense. It’s so comforting to know that I’m not the only one whose emotions run deep!!

    Absolutely delicious Bolognese… I am definitely making this soon. ❤ I must read up on this fascinating woman.. Anais Nin.

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