Gamush: Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese

Pasta bolognese - about as easy and simple as it gets - tricked out with cornichons. What? Yes, little pickles. No time to explain, just read the recipe!

Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese

It’s been a while since we blogged about a recipe with family history. We’ve been doing quite a bit of commissioned work for Serious Eats, and they’re a professional outfit you know, and you can’t just submit any old tosh on their site (ahem). Their readers are a refined, questing bunch, wanting to get to the nitty gritty of a recipe without having to weed-whack through paragraphs of us arse-ing around talking about our chickens, or what kind of expression our dog is making (bored, if you must know), or that time we tried to juggle seven lemons. As you know, we leave all the old tosh for our own site, so it is with a familiar thud that I dust off the book of Nerds Family History and tell you all about gamush.

Weeknight Pasta bolognese - gamush
As satisfying a dinner one can get out of a half an hour of cooking.

Gamush, let me be clear, is a word that does not exist. Even as I try to type it, the autocorrect tries to turn the word into “games”; it deflects its own existence like a cloak of invisibility. When we were first living together in Astoria and Emily served up a quick pasta, meat and tomato sauce dish and said “it’s gamush“, I don’t remember registering the name; I probably just said “bless you” in response (because it sound like someone sneezed, right?). Eventually I learned that this was a recipe that her dad had originally made at some point in her childhood.

Essentially it’s a pasta bolognese, ground beef (or turkey), crushed tomatoes, flavored with lots of garlic, onion, some herbs, a little wine, and tossed with the pasta of your choice and topped with grated cheese. And it’s super easy to make: cook up the onions and beef until the former are soft and the latter is browned. Add in the tomato paste and garlic, and sauté for a minute, then add the wine and the rest of the ingredients and simmer for a quarter of an hour. A little mascarpone (or cream cheese) adds just a hint of creaminess, enough to mellow the acidity of the tomatoes but not so much as to weigh things down.

Get your pasta ready – any variety will do, honestly, but we like shell shapes that hold in the chunky sauce – and combine everything once it’s done. Sprinkle with parmesan.

At some point in the recipe’s evolution we decided at random to toss in, at the combining stage, some chopped cornichons (small, tart pickles) and MAN ALIVE was that an excellent idea because now we don’t make it any other way. Those little pops of briny pickle just cut through the rich sauce and…pow. So good.

Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese
Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese – a simple meat sauce, but so much flavor.

When we started getting serious about blogging, I asked Emily about gamush. “Hey, how do you spell that dish?”, I yelled. “I’m looking up on the internet how other people make it.”

Of course, my research was fruitless: there is no such thing as gamush. Again, Google assumed that I was tragically mis-spelling “baba ghanoush”. The only viable source I found was a scanned copy of the Northwind News Christmas circular from 1995 (hello, random), in which it made an appearance as part of a suggested gift guide. But I’m pretty sure they weren’t referring to pasta bolognese.

If you know what they mean by “gamush”, please write your responses on a postcard to: We Want to Know What Gamush Is, Nerds with Knives HQ, Beacon NY.

It was only last week that I had the insight that perhaps Old Poppa Nerd (not his real name) hadn’t just made up a recipe title out of nowhere, but that it was a version of something in Yiddish from his Eastern European ancestry. And so it turned out to be: properly gamisch in German, the word means a mixture of things. There is also, delightfully, a word heimish which means home-like, friendly, folksy, which, if I say so myself, fits this recipe to a T. It’s a heimish gamisch, you know?

But I think we’ll carry on calling it gamush. After all, if you can’t make up your own word for your own pasta bolognese recipe, what can you do? Certainly not juggle seven lemons. Don’t even try, that would be ridiculous.

Pasta bolognese - gamush

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Gamush: Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese

Pasta bolognese - about as easy and simple as it gets - tricked out with cornichons. What? Yes, little pickles. No time to explain, just read the recipe!
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Course: Entree
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: bolognese, family, gamush, pasta
Servings: 4
Author: Emily Clifton - Nerds with Knives


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion finely chopped (or make a mirepoix with carrot and celery; see note)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
  • 4 large cloves garlic minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cream cheese or mascarpone 3 makes a moderately creamy sauce
  • 1/4 cup cornichons diced (about 10 small pickles)
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3/4 pound dried short-cut pasta such as orecchiette or small shells
  • Parmesan cheese for serving
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil and/or parsley lightly packed, roughly chopped


  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat, until shimmering. Add the onion and the ground beef and cook, separating the meat into crumbles with a spoon until the meat has started to brown and the onions are soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the wine and scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and stir until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer gently until thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the mascarpone and cornichons.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil and add the pasta, and cook according to the directions on the box. When the pasta is cooked, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain well. Add the pasta to the sauce, and toss well. If sauce is too thick, stir in a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water until the consistency is how you like it. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan, herbs and chili flakes on top.


This recipe works great with chopped onion as the first ingredient. However, if you want to take a little more time, you can start with a proper mirepoix. Combine the finely chopped onion with one medium carrot and one stick of celery, both also finely chopped. Cook in the olive oil until soft but uncolored, then add the beef and continue with the rest of the recipe steps.
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Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese
Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese

6 thoughts on “Gamush: Easy Weeknight Pasta Bolognese”

  1. Loved this! A much better weeknight option than the Lidia Bastianich bolognese I tried a little while ago, and so so satisfying. I diced the pickles very fine since we weren’t too sure about them, but they were subtle and added a neat texture. Lots of leftovers to enjoy!

  2. This dish, depending on where you’re at in the US is variably known as American Chop Suey or American Goulash.

    Along with a couple of other regional names. The dishes have different histories and derivations. But they’ve all arrived at the same end point. An ultra stripped down, single skillet, version of pasta with meat sauce. Depending on where Emily and her family are from. Its possible Gamush is a corruption of Goulash. Or that the Gamisch guess if correct was a simple substitution for Chop Suey. Which also means a mixture or hodge podge. But its also possible that Gamush is a thing unto itself. I’ve heard the word before. As a faux Italian word/exclamation used to mock Italians.


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