16:00 | Posted by Nim Headland | Category ,

Spaghetti Bolognese

Bolognese sauce is a controversial issue, apparently responsibly for generation-long rifts and possible murders in Italian families with differing ideas as to how a ragu should be prepared. An Italian native will scratch his head when served Spaghetti Bolognese, as it bears hardly a passing resemblance to rag├╣ alla bolognese, the meat sauce from Bologna from which our interpretation takes its name. Officialy, Bolognese ragu should contain beef, pancetta, tomato puree, wine, oil, milk and a soffritto of minced onion, celery and carrot. It is never served with spaghetti, but tagliatelle instead.

The myriad of British versions are very different, but I think it's time to relax about authenticity and enjoy experimenting with this popular dish. Just don't call it Italian!

Bolognese is personal. Even in the UK, everyone has an opinion on how it should taste. Heston Blumenthal spent hours perfecting his very best version, only to have the patrons of his Bray pub vote almost unanimously in favour of Dolmio bolognese. It's a nostalgic, family-centric and comforting dish, and people like it to taste like the one their mother used to make.

This is my version of an anglicised bolognese sauce, and yes, it is very similar to the version my Mum makes, and my Dad come to that. Each of us has slightly different secret ingredients that we like to include so they are never identical, just the same but different. I think that's rather lovely.

To feed four:

400g extra lean beef mince.
Olive oil
1 chopped white onion
2 crushed cloves of garlic
Beef stock - you can crumble in a cube, or use one of those Knorr stock pot jellies, which I think are fantastic.
Tomato puree, about half a tube will do it.
A can of Italian tomatoes, San Marzano are the best, although very expensive to import.
A generous tsp each of dried italian herbs and dried crushed chilli flakes.
Lots of ground black pepper

The secret ingredients: (all optional, but advised!)
A slosh of balsamic vinegar to make the tomatoes sing
a squeeze of Heinz tomato ketchup for depth of flavour
A few drops of soy sauce or Umami paste to enhance the meaty flavours

Right. Heat a slosh of olive oil in a good sized saucepan and fry your onions and garlic until golden. Add the mince and brown, breaking up well, before stirring in your cheaty stock in cube or jelly form! When that is incorporated stir through the tomato puree, making sure to coat the meat with it throughly - this gives it a really concentrated tomato flavour. Add your tomatos and break up. As soon as the sauce begins to bubble, turn down the heat to a very slow simmer. Add your dried herbs and chillis, and a few turns of pepper. Add balsamic, ketchup and soy if using. Stir, cover and leave it alone to cook very gently for AT LEAST 4 hours. I mean it! Stir it every so often and add a little warm water if the sauce is becoming to dry.

Don't be tempted to eat it earlier, the long, slow cook gives the meat time to soften and the flavours time to marry and concentrate. Yum. It freezes beautifully too, so there's no excuse for not cooking an enormous batch to see you through on lazy evenings.

Serve with a long pasta of your choice, with some chopped parsley or basil to garnish and lots of parmasan cheese. We always eat it with a good green salad and a balsamic dressing. This picture shows the lovely mixed leaves picked from my garden, along with our homegrown radishes and some Italian tomatoes.


jms said...

I always add a measure of something alcoholic to my sauce, wine if I have some, if not then a measure of sweet sherry, or I've even just sloshed some lager in when nothing else to hand.

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Nimlet said...

jms, thanks for visiting! I often chuck a slosh of red wine into bolognese, but I find the balsamic vinegar does the same job, as well as marrying so beautifully with the tomato base!

Nimlet said...

You can now get San Marzano canned tomatoes in Sainsbury's! Hurrah! They are very good, and keeping me going while our crop of San Marzano toms are ripening.

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