Comfort/Survival Food

The food: Spaghetti Bolognese with Cognac Sauce

The story:

I recently saw (and very much enjoyed) a preview performance in Toronto of the Broadway-bound production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – and I posted a mini-review of it here.

The show uses pre-existing music of different pop genres (though mainly disco) in its score, much like the musical comedy adaptation of my novel Old Flames that I’m working on, which also features pre-existing show tunes and pop tunes.

One song featured prominently in Priscilla is Gloria Gaynor’s disco classic (and gay anthem) I Will Survive, which made me think about a classic comfort food dish that has survived for decades in my repertoire: spaghetti bolognese with cognac sauce.

The recipe for this two-layered pasta sauce came to me years ago from my mother’s friend Berthe Buckland. When I cooked it recently, I tweaked Tyler’s Florence’s recipe to make the bolognese sauce, and topped it with my version of Berthe’s creamy, buttery cognac sauce.

The decadent result, garnished with chopped fresh basil and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, is almost as over-the-top as the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and just as satisfying.

Spaghetti Bolognese (adapted from Tyler Florence) with Cognac Sauce:


For bolognese sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
4 fresh thyme sprigs, leaves stripped from the stem
2 fresh oregano sprigs, leaves stripped from the stem
1 fresh rosemary sprig, needles stripped from the stem
2 bay leaves
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup milk
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, hand-crushed
2 cups dry red wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound dry spaghetti or spaghettini
1 handful fresh basil, hand-torn, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving

For cognac sauce:

6 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup cognac or brandy
20 drops Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. chili powder
4 Tbsp. sour cream


In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium flame. Add the pancetta and saute for 2 minutes to render out the fat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots, stirring to combine. Toss in the thyme, oregano, rosemary, and bay leaves. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring, until the vegetables are very tender but not browned.

Raise the heat a bit and add the ground pork and beef; brown until the meat is no longer pink, breaking up the clumps with a wooden spoon. Add the milk and simmer until the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and wine; season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and cover. Slowly simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring now and then, until the sauce is very thick. Taste again for salt and pepper.

When you are ready to serve, put on a large pot of salted water to a boil, and make cognac sauce: melt butter in small saucepan and add other ingredients. Simmer very low for 10-12 minutes until reduced by one-third.

When water boils, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain the pasta well and toss with the Bolognese sauce. Spoon a few tablespoons of cognac sauce over each serving. Shower with basil and pass grated cheese around the table.


2 thoughts on “Comfort/Survival Food

    • hungrynovelist says:

      Yes, I eat the food! And no, my metabolism is not fast, so I’m not slim and svelte like some writers I know (you). The only way I manage to not gain too much weight is by alternating low calorie meals with higher ones.

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