Disclaimer: This is not a real or authentic bolognese sauce, it is my version of a bolognese. I fed this to an Italian friend and while they enjoyed it, they stoically informed me that it was not a bolognese, merely a meat sauce!
Real bolognese contains things like carrot and celery, milk and bacon, mine does not, but, as long you can put your foody pedantry aside, I guarantee you will enjoy it. A lot of bolognese sauces you will find have carrot and and celery included in the base, I have tried it this way and found there was no tangible improvement in the flavour, in fact, I’m not a big fan of using carrot and celery, but maybe I did it wrong or something. I suppose you can use these extra veg for more flavour, or even to bulk it up more, but I don’t bother. I also don’t bother with adding pancetta or bacon which is another common variation.
I’ve been feeding my version to friends and relatives for years, it’s my 'go to' easy meal if I am required to feed a table full of hungry souls. People always ask me what is in it, so it’s time I wrote it up for all to enjoy.
A meaty tomato-ey sauce is a fairly flexible thing, a moveable feast if you like. Everyone has their own version, sometimes as basic as adding a jar of shop bought sauce to mince and pasta to something far more elaborate. I suppose mine leans towards the elaborate side. It doesn’t take much time to prepare, about 20 minutes or so will see your sauce physically complete, but the most important ingredient of all with any bolognese sauce is time. At the very least it needs to slowly simmer for an hour, two hours is better, making it the night before and eating it the next day is best of all.
The amounts given here will feed four greedy people, or even stretch to six given enough pasta, and sides like a green salad and, of course, some crusty garlic bread. You can always double the quantities and feed way more people. I often make this for myself and freeze the sauce for a quick and easy meal another day.
- A tablespoon of vegetable oil.
- 1 large onion or a couple of smaller ones finely chopped
- A couple of cloves of garlic minced
- 400 g or so of lean minced beef
- 300 mls or so of beef stock made with a cube
- 200 g of mushrooms finely chopped
- 1 400 g can of chopped tomatoes
- A large tablespoon of tomato puree
- A lot of dried basil a heaped tablespoon at least
- A couple of teaspoons of cumin yes, I said cumin
- A large glug of red wine
- Salt and pepper
- Parmesan cheese grated
- 100-150 g dried spaghetti per person
A large saucepan with a heavy base is the ideal vehicle for your sauce, a heat spreader is also very useful to ensure the sauce doesn’t catch or burn on its long, slow, simmer.
Gently fry the onion in the oil unless it has softened, add the garlic and fry that for a minute or two, the smell of onions and garlic frying is, without a doubt, one of my favourite things.
Turn up the heat to medium and add the minced beef, fry this off and break it up and stir it around until it has browned.
Add the can of chopped tomatoes, the tomato puree and the beef stock. Add the basil, cumin, salt, pepper and red wine and give it a good stir. Cumin is highly unconventional in a bolognese but I find it adds a great depth of flavour without being too shouty. The last thing I add are the chopped mushrooms. Chop them as finely as you can, you shouldn’t really notice there are mushrooms in the finished sauce, in fact, many people who are mushroom averse, like my niece for instance, have happily eaten this oblivious to their presence.
And that’s it, all you do now is wait.
Turn the heat right down to a low simmer, the sauce will be quite liquidy at this point and you don’t want that. Nobody wants that.
Cover the pan and check on it every 15 or 20 minutes to give at a stir and make sure the sauce is not sticking to the pan, this is where a heat spreader is invaluable, particularly if you are cooking on a gas hob as I do.
Stir and wait and stir and wait. As I mentioned above, one hour is an absolute minimum, 90 minutes is adequate. You want the sauce to reduce down and thicken so it is not watery at all, and it will cling to your pasta in a most satisfactory manner. If the sauce is still watery after an hour remove the lid of the pot and it will reduce and thicken more quickly.
In the meantime, you can make some garlic bread by mincing a few cloves of garlic into as much butter as you want, and spreading this onto sliced bread of your choice, a French baguette or Italian ciabatta work well, get the bread in the oven to cook to your satisfaction. A hot oven to quickly crisp it, or wrap it in tin foil and slow cook for a more moist result.
You can prepare an easy rocket salad or suchlike if you want some greenery. By ‘prepare’ I mean open a bag and empty it into a bowl! Drizzle some olive oil and lemon juice over it if you want to be posh.
When the sauce is ready, get your spaghetti cooking in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Try to get it ‘al dente’ or with a little bite to it. I usually pull a strand of spaghetti out of the water after ten minutes and bite through it. If there is just a spot of white the the centre of if, it’s done. Try not to overcook the pasta, it’s not the end of the world if you do, but it’s definitely not as nice.
The usual way to serve spaghetti bolognese is with a dollop of the sauce plonked on top of the cooked pasta on each plate, a more Italian way of serving it is to mix the pasta through the sauce and plate it up that way. I do both ways but I prefer the latter.
Don’t forget the parmesan. You can grate some and place it in a bowl on the table for your guests to help themselves, or you can just pass the cheese and the grater around and they can do their own. Please do not use that dried grated stuff you can buy, it’s rank!
Lots of red wine and chatter make for a perfect get together with your friends and family.