Don Roberto’s Penne alla Bolognese

Penne alla Bolognese is my ultimate comfort food and my strongest culinary memory of growing up. It’s the dish I make now for tradition (every Christmas), in times of crisis or stress, or for no real reason at all (it’s Sunday! Bolognese night!). This recipe comes from my father, Don Roberto (er, Bob), who got it from his Sicilian mother, Felicia. She cooked it with one, very unexpected, secret ingredient that is now yours to try.

Serves 4-6


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Scant 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium or ½ large white onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 (28 oz) can organic diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 - 1 1/2 pounds penne pasta
  • 1/2 cup ricotta, for topping


Step 1

Heat olive oil and butter in pan over medium heat, adding chopped onion once the butter has melted and begun to foam. Stir in garlic or garlic powder. Cook until translucent and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Step 2

Add meat to pan, crumbling as it browns and cook just until it’s no longer pink. Season with a pinch of salt, Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes), tomato paste, red wine, mustard, and sugar. Mix well and allow to cook down until everything’s starting to thicken, about 5 minutes.

Step 3

Add tomatoes last and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat to low and let simmer for at least 1 hour, but ideally 2. Stir occasionally, do not cover.

Step 4

When you’re just about ready to serve, cook pasta according to package directions. Add pasta to pan with meat sauce and stir to combine. Add ¼ cup or so of the pasta’s starchy water to the sauce and stir to combine everything.

Step 5

Top with a large glob of ricotta (do not stir it in) and drizzle with very good extra virgin olive oil. Serve warm.