The Best Ragù Bolognese for Kids (But You’ll Want to Eat It All Yourself)

Last night, at the tail end of Sasha’s 7th-birthday party, Jean whipped up dinner for the last couple of the kid’s friends still hanging out. She made, of course, spaghetti bolognese, using the sauce that I whip up in large batches each month, then freeze in small Ziploc snack packets. The kids, well, they loved it—and even asked for more. Their moms, who were hanging out too, seemed impressed, so I figured I’d share the recipe.

This is, first of all, a super-basic bolognese sauce. I don’t think there are any weird twists in there, although whether your Emilia-Romagnese nonna would agree with my choices is, well, I don’t care. Here ya go:


  • 2 lbs. ground meat (I prefer a pork-and-beef mix, but you could go all beef, add in some veal, or switch up to lamb)
  • 5 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 4–5 celery stalks, diced
  • 2–3 large carrots, diced
  • 6 large cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4–6 thick twigs fresh thyme
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I prefer Sclafani brand because its ingredients are just “tomatoes, salt”)
  • 3/4 C. white wine
  • 3/4 C. whole milk

1. In a dutch oven over high heat, brown the meat in two batches, seasoning it with 1 tsp. salt and breaking it up once it’s developed a crust, about 5 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon, so that the fat drains back in, and reserve.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the butter. When it’s done frothing, add the onions, celery, and carrots (this mix is called a mirepoix), plus 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until the veggies have cooked down a bit and the onions are on the verge of caramelizing, about 8–10 minutes.

3. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the bay leaves and thyme and cook 1 minute more. Put the meat back in and stir to combine.

4. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and 1 tsp. salt. At first, this won’t seem like nearly enough tomatoes to make this a sauce, but after a minute or two, everything will be nice and crimson.

5. Stir in the white wine and milk. When the sauce starts bubbling furiously, cover with a heavy lid and turn heat to as low as possible (you may have to change burners for this). Cook at least 3 hours, preferably 4 or 5. However long you cook it, do it until the fats have started to separate out from the rest of the sauce—this is a good way to know when it’s generally ready.

6. When it’s finally done (or you can wait no longer), pluck out the thyme stems; the cooking should have removed the leaves from them already. I usually then let the pot cool and spoon it out into Ziploc baggies; about 8 of the “snack” sizes, each of which holds enough sauce for 2 kiddie portions, or 1 adult portion.

Variations: In summer, I like to add a diced zucchini to the mirepoix and skip the milk.

The last, but possibly most important, thing to know about this recipe is: Make sure you get to eat some yourself! It’s pretty damn tasty, but your kids can easily consume the whole batch without your ever getting a spoonful. And then you’ll have to make another pot. Which maybe isn’t so terrible, come to think of it.

Anyway, let me know it goes for you…

Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned From ‘Dr. Who’

Apparently, a new season of the BBC’s classic sci-fi series, “Dr. Who,” is about to begin here in the former colonies, which has prompted some people to reflect on how the 50-year-old show, about a time-traveling do-gooder with a funny accent and slightly funnier outfits, is an excellent source of parenting wisdom. And they’re right! So right, in fact, that I’ve compiled my own list of dadding lessons learned from watching the TARDIS whine in and out of existence:

1. You can disappear for years at a stretch, and yet your kids will still adore you. No, I’m not referring to the Doctor’s penchant for bouncing into and out of his companions’ lives at odd moments. Actually, I’m talking about the way the series barely made it to the age of 50: Beginning in the mid-80s, its existence was threatened, and it went entirely off the air for years at a time, returning occasionally for a season or three with a new Doctor before once again failing to find a broad audience and going dark. And yet Dr. Who fans STILL clamored for it, their ardor only growing with the show’s prolonged absence. And when it returned: joy beyond all reasonable measure! So that’s the approach I take to my kids. I leave when I feel like it, knowing that when—if—I return, they’ll be as desperate as ever for my love and attention.

2. Kids will believe anything. If there’s one thing Dr. Who is known for, it’s execrable dialogue and even worse special effects. Easy example: For the show’s entire run, the most evil bad guys of all were the Daleks, who trundled around on roller balls, unable to climb stairs, and were usually limited to the singularly idiotic spoken line: “Ex-ter-min-ate!” And yet I fucking loved that show, and even now, despite my overt knowledge of its shoddiness, tune in to catch new episodes. And so, once again, I’m taking this approach to child-rearing: I tell my kids whatever flits through my brain, no matter how unbelievable, knowing that the little creatures are so credulous they’ll eat it all up. Remember, I’ve just returned from months or years away, and they want my attention, so their defenses are down—I might well have been piloting my spaceship through the galaxy in the company of unicorn princesses.

3. A silly outfit makes everything okay. Of course, for these tactics to work, you have to emulate the Doctor down to his wardrobe, which can be anything from Edwardian to cricket-ready to 21st-century hipster formal. This gives the Doctor a playful, almost harmless aspect, when in fact his arrival usually signals the imminent near-destruction of the planet Earth, and the upending of his companions’ lives. But hey, he’s got a long, silly scarf! And a robot dog! And expertly tousled hair! How much chaos can he—or I—really wreak? (Answer: As much as you’ll let me!)

So there you have it: a primer on parenting based on the adventures of a guy who’s lived 900-some years without ever settling down, acquiring health insurance (what’s the deductible on regeneration?), and time-traveling all the way back to 4:35 a.m. in order to be first on line to register a kid for Universal Pre-K. Trust me, this stuff totally works—at least until the network executives (a.k.a. your wife) cancel the season and the kids all yell, “Exterminate!” After that, you might as well go live at Comic-Con.

Crib, Cradle, Car

This post was sponsored by Fiat and the new Fiat 500L: Significantly larger than the iconic Fiat 500, and plenty big enough for a family of five. For more information on sponsored posts, read the bottom of our About Page.

Crib, cradle, car: these are, apparently, the three main sleep-inducers for the modern family. This we know because of a recent study that showed that new UK parents drive an average of 1,300 miles a year just trying to get their children to sleep. And, as the Daily Mail pointed out, the fathers as a separate category are even rangier than that, driving an astonishing 1,827 miles in the first year of their child’s life. That’s the equivalent of three Le Mans endurance races, except there’s not always second driver to take over when you get fatigued.

At least there isn’t for the self-described “baby chauffer”  in Fiat’s dad-centered video followup to Fiat’s The Motherhood video. This installment, called The Fatherhood (Fiat 500L 12″ Remix), begins with an identifiable scene: mom packs the two mewling infants in the back car seats and then shuts the door so the father can drive off in the hopes the children will finally settle down. The car door shutting serves as the downbeat for a retro musical take on the road rules of being a first-time dad, as some satirical New Wave synth pop kicks off (think The Human League and their ilk). Whether or not that’s your jam, readers of this blog will be glad to see the lyrics laced with the kind of self-pity and regret we often indulge in here:

It’s fine because I love you / And I will never trade your mother
But in the future I’ll be abstinent / Or double up the rubber

There must be an element of sleep-deprived hallucination involved here—soon he’s seeing singing wood nymph and dancing unicorn, which is usually a firm sign of mental distortion—which could also explain the teleportation directly back to the sounds of early-80’s Sheffield. The good news here—for the driver, for Fiat, and for the babies—is that despite his solipsism, sleeplessness and hallucinations, the father manages to drive safely enough to arrive unscathed back in front of his home.

Except, just then, the infants wake up. And thus, perhaps, was a sequel to The Fatherhood (Fiat 500L 12″ Remix) born.

Until then, here’s the video, on YouTube:

Digital Sabbath

As the least Jewish (yet still sorta Jewy!) member of DadWagon, Sabbath has never been my strength. So when I set out to write about the fourth annual National Day of Unplugging on March 1, which is a sort of Sabbath for the digital era, I realized that by writing about it March 1, I would actually be totally violating the premise (unless I was going to write it down with pencil and paper and just post it around the neighborhood).

And so, I present to you, on March 2 in the evening, a post about March 1.

There is a lot of scripture about the Sabbath and what it is and why God  commanded it and such. But one of the best has to be this:

Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day thou shall rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of your handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

I like it, of course for the unintentional way that it talks to me in the vernacular—thine ass may rest!—and because it presumes I have a handmaid, which is nice and flattering. But this, like other scripture on Sabbath, says it should be a day of rest. The problem for a digital sabbath is that these days we tend to be doing the exact same thing whether at rest or at work. That is, we are still at our computers whether it’s the weekend or the week, whether we are looking to work through a to-do list or looking for cat porn for fun (or whatever your search habits are). About when the Book of Exodus would have been written, it was pretty clear if someone was in the fields working or at home Sabbathing. Now you would have to be close enough to see the screen—angry birds or angry email to investors?—to figure out whether this was work or rest.

That’s why I like the solution from the National Day of Unplugging people. Just unplug it all. Refresh your handmaid’s son (if you’re into that kink). Rest thine ox. And, of course, rest thine ass. Offline.


Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 3

Matt looks in the mirror and finds not much to brag about, period. A crosspost from the Atlantic.

Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 2

Nathan on how bragging is a developmental milestone, and so girls, as with every other milestone, get there quicker. Crosspost from The Atlantic

Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 1

Theodore on how he doesn’t shop, and he doesn’t crow. From our series with the Atlantic

New Year’s, Almost

The challenges of New Years for kids who don’t even know what a year is.


Recent Comments

  • Dee: As one of the impressed moms there last night, and also because my kid ate 3 bowls of that bolognese, thanks for...
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  • Matt: Whoops! Just put that back in. The recipe editor has been fired.
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