Marisa’s Spaghetti & Meat Sauce

Marisa's Obahchan

My Japanese grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015. One of the quirks of this illness is that because she can’t converse about her day, she shares much more detail about times of her life that she can remember. My grandmother was never one to talk about herself or her feelings, so it feels like a surprising gift. It was in one of those conversations that she shared what it was like for her at the Air Force military bases where she lived with my grandfather in the late 60s and 70s. As she waded into assimilation in America, she was instructed how to keep house and cook a short list of dishes — including a spaghetti & meat sauce.

Bizarrely, this is the dish I most closely associate with my Obahchan. Even though I also learned how to use chopsticks, fold dumplings, properly store nori and other Japanese customs from her, it was this dish (and her simple tossed salad) that was requested and served most often at her house when I was growing up. Yes, Kraft Parmesan was always on the table.

from Marisa Dobson


  • 1 1/2 cup of fennel, chopped
  • 2-3 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 lbs of ground beef
  • 750 g box of Pomi Strained Tomatoes
  • 2 cups of beef broth
  • 1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp of sugar
  • 1 tbsp of soy sauce
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 16 oz box of dried spaghetti, prepared per pkg instructions


spaghetti and meat sauce

  1. Heat a large cast-iron pot. Add the olive oil.
  2. Cook chopped fennel, onions, and carrots on medium-high heat for 10 mins.
  3. Add the garlic to the fennel mire poix, stir and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add ground beef when the moisture of the mire poix is just about gone and slightly sticking to the bottom. Turn heat up to high and cook for about 10 minutes so fats can reduce.
  5. Add strained tomatoes & beef broth, and turn heat down to medium-low. Bring to simmer and partially cover. Simmer for approximately 2 hours. Salt & pepper to taste.
  6. Boil water for pasta (salt heavily!). Bake your garlic bread while the pasta is cooking. Assemble tossed salad. Pile pasta, top with meat sauce. Enjoy with salad, garlic bread, and a container of Kraft Parmesan for extra assimilating flavor.