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Photo byDbgg1979

Welcome to Matador Life’s Food Week. This week, we’ll cover everything from food sex to food beauty and food politics then round off with some recipes all the way from India. Now let’s kick it off with a recipe for bolognese sauce — everyone should have a solid bolognese fall back recipe — from Mary Richardson that showed her why, just sometimes, it’s important to take a break from traveling solo.

A few summers ago, I took a dream solo trip to Italy. Like many independent travelers who prefer going it alone, I reveled in the ruins in Rome, museums in Florence, and trattorias of Venice all by myself. In short, I loved exploring on my own agenda. Not once did I miss companionship.

My daily experiences felt indulgent and free, but after a few weeks of blissful wandering, I found myself in a typical dilemma. I was broke. Trying at all costs to avoid an early departure, I stretched my Italian adventure a bit longer.

Through one of those “friend of a friend” encounters, I moved into a small flat near the University of Bologna. I stayed there for several weeks with 5 Italian female college students, sleeping on the floor and adjusting to constant companionship. Introverted by nature, this new arrangement was not how I envisioned the trip.

The best part about discussing food customs and recipes is that they are more than just lessons about sustenance and taste, they represent culture and tradition

But during that time, I engaged local Italian culture more than I ever did as a solo observer. My unexpected roommates and I spent countless hours discussing our lives, debunking cultural stereotypes, preparing meals together, and making nightly pilgrimages to a neighborhood gelateria.

Some of my favorite conversations dealt with Italian food. Specifically, they taught me:

1. Cappuccino is never to be drunk after dinner
2. One never ever eats tomatoes and cheese together for breakfast
3. In some Italian foodie circles, garlic and onion are never mixed.
4. Olive oil and red wine are the secrets to everlasting youth.

For an unenlightened cook like me, accustomed to making spaghetti sauce from a powdered spice packet, these talks were truly educational.

Moreover, the best part about discussing food customs and recipes is that they are more than just lessons about sustenance and taste, they represent culture and tradition. While admiring architecture and visiting museums are certainly worthwhile as a solo traveler, I recognized that interpersonal connection takes the pleasure of travel experience to a deeper level.

One of the recipes I learned in Bologna is an authentic Bolognese Sauce. This sauce certainly challenged my previous notions of what meat sauce should be as it contains the most unexpected ingredient: Milk!

I know many pasta lovers out there are partial to their own recipes passed down family generations, but I encourage you all to give this one a try. I promise you won’t be disappointed by the savory creaminess of it.


3 tbs butter
4 tbs chopped onion
2 tbs chopped carrot
2 tbs chopped celery
¾ pound ground beef, or ¼ pound each of beef, veal, and pork
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 can diced tomatoes with juices
Salt to taste

What to do

Melt butter in a heavy pan and sauté onion, carrot, and celery in the butter until brown, about 5 minutes.
Crumble the ground meat and add to the pan with ½ tsp salt.
Cook for about 3 minutes.
Add milk and bring to a simmer until it evaporates and there is only clear fat residue, about 10 minutes.
Add wine and simmer until it evaporates, about 10 minutes
Add tomatoes and juices and bring to simmer.
Reduce heat to very low and simmer slowly until the liquid is gone, about 3 hours.

Even now, I must admit that my travel tendencies lean more towards lone treks around the globe. Still, I think back to Italy and fondly remember my roommates in Bologna and our many conversations about onion and garlic.


There are many reasons to experience life on the road solo, and no better way to come together with others over a table of food you cooked together. For more on about food and culture, check out our Cooking and Recipes collection.



About The Author

Mary Richardson

Mary Richardson is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Namibia. She currently lives in Okinawa, Japan, where she is a tour guide and travel writer. Read her stories at

  • tullosgirl

    I fantasize about traveling alone, but I never have. This inspires me to just do it!

    • Leigh Shulman

      I agree. There’s something about solo travel that also leaves you more open to finding these pockets of real life and connection while visiting other countries.

      I hope you do it. I travel mostly with my family (husband and daughter) and the occasional solo trip is absolutely rejuvenating.

  • Candice

    You know, I think I’m actually gonna give this one a shot. Thanks Mary!

  • Leigh Shulman

    Ever since reading this, I’ve been craving this sauce. I’m going to have to make it.

    I have my own recipe using honey instead of carrot to sweeten. And I tend to use only one type of meat. I’ll have to try with these variations.

    And of course, with the milk.

  • Terence Carter

    That’s a decent, simple recipe (although brodo, or stock, is in most recipes), but the meat must be browned and three minutes isn’t going to do it, it takes around twenty minutes. Without the meat browned the ragù alla Bolognese will lack flavour and art of the reason for using the milk is to take away any slight burnt or bitterness that might occur when browning the meat.
    Also you haven’t said what to serve it with! Many people think it’s spaghetti, but traditionally it’s served with tagliatelle and the next day leftover ragù is often used a a filling for lasagne.
    I spent three months travelling around Northern Italy Italy talking to chefs and photographing them for books and magazine articles and “does ragù alla Bolognese have milk in it?” was my ‘ice-breaker’ question:

  • The Dame

    But there is no garlic in this recipe!? Sacrilegious!

  • The Dame

    But there is no garlic in this recipe!? Sacrilegious!
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

    • Mary R

      No garlic? I know! I think those Italians could learn a thing or two from us…

  • Wabusk

    Good Recipe for sure! Having learned almost the same straight from a Nonna myself garlic is a no no (pardon the pun) in the eyes of a Northern Italy purist.Just make sure to chop those veggies (carrot, celery,onion) into almost a pulp. No one likes huge chunks of veggies. No basil though? At first the milk idea confused me too.

    Looking at that photo makes me sooo hungry. Im in the middle of Sulawesi Indonesia and I cant stop thinking about PASTA!!!!!!!!!Next trip…ITALY

  • Heather

    Thanks Mary! I’m looking forward to trying out this recipe.

  • Archie Hill

    i love Italian Food specially those juicy pastas. They are really delicious.’`.

  • Rishabh Kaul

    Lovely post Mary.
    Just wanted to point out an editing error:

    “Cappuccino is never to be drunk after dinner”

    You obviously meant breakfast. :)

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