Brilliant Bolognese

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Andrew: Spaghetti Bolognese is a good old student staple, and I have developed this recipe over the years through experimentation and now have something far tastier than the basic mince, onion and tomato concoction that my 18 year old self served up!

It is now my youngest daughter’s favourite! It is requested for every birthday and when friends come round to stay. Leftovers can be frozen when cooled. There aren’t leftovers very often.

Dawn: That sounds like a great flavoursome meal! Just what this blog is all about!

Ingredients

For 4 hearty portions

1 medium carrot

1 medium sized courgette

3 rashers streaky bacon

Herbs: dried or fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil

600g minced beef

1 onion red or white

1 red pepper

Handful of mushrooms (optional)

1 or 2 tins of tomatoes: whole or chopped

Tomato purée or tomato ketchup

Green pesto (optional)

1 glass of red wine (optional)

Pasta of your choice

Parmesan to serve

Method

  • In a wide and deep pan, warm 15ml of olive oil on a low heat. Add grated carrot and courgette and sweat them on the low heat until they start to darken and break down a little. This takes about five minutes.

Dawn: Why use these vegetables – don’t you start with onions?

Andrew: It gives the sauce its base, bulks it out with vegetables and also adds texture while absorbing the flavours later on.

  • Add the finely chopped bacon to the pan and raise the heat a little to colour the bacon, but don’t crisp it! Flavour and texture again!
  • Add the dried herbs. You don’t need to use all four: I used thyme and basil the last time I did this. About two teaspoons would be sufficient. Allow them to get in contact with the pan, and the flavours will flood your kitchen. Cook for about a minute. Keep them moving so they don’t burn.

Dawn: What about those fresh herbs Andrew? If you used them, they would burn?

Andrew: That’s right Dawn! Use them later on when you are adding the other vegetables. I prefer some torn basil leaves. If using thyme, pull the leaves from the stalks.

  • Turn up the heat a little more. Add the minced beef to the pan, making sure it is well separated. Keep turning until it browns.
  • Chop the onion; fine if you want a smoother end product, roughly if you prefer a more ‘rustic’ touch. Recently I have been using red onion in preference for the colour and also because of the milder and sweeter flavour.
  • Chop the peppers and mushrooms to your preference too.
  • Add the onion, mixing in well, before adding the peppers and mushrooms.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes and mix in well. If using whole tomatoes chop them in the pan with a spatula or wooden spoon. Use a second tin if you prefer, or wish to add more bulk to the dish.

Dawn: Fresh tomatoes would be good too, wouldn’t they?

Andrew: They would, but would have to be really ripe. I have done that in Italy where they were really cheap and plentiful. Beautiful, deep red, rich and juicy plum tomatoes. Some people remove the skin by leaving them in freshly boiled water but I don’t always bother with that. Do remove the pips though!

Dawn: Sounds lovely! Especially cooking this in the sunshine!

  • Add in a table spoon tomato purée, or if you prefer my guilty pleasure a good dollop of tomato ketchup.

Dawn: That doesn’t sound very Italian!

Andrew: It isn’t, but ketchup adds a little sweetness to the sauce. If you use purée and take the sauce from the heat too early it can be a little bitter.

  • Add the wine if using it, and a desert spoon of green pesto. Another guilty pleasure, but if you like a strong basil ‘kick’ this will give it. Some people add a stock cube or a dash of Worcestershire sauce here, but I think it would overcomplicate the flavour.
  • Add black pepper to taste, and a little salt.
  • Turn the heat down low; put the lid on the pan and leave to simmer for thirty minutes to an hour. This is the really crucial part of the dish. This will allow the flavours to permeate, for the colours to develop and for the meat to become really tender.
  • When ready to your taste, remove from the heat, and leave to one side to cool while you cook the pasta.

Dawn: Can any pasta be used, Andrew?

Andrew: Yes, and traditionally a long pasta is used; usually spaghetti, but I prefer linguine, which is flatter and takes a little less time to cook. Tagliatelle is just as good too.

Dawn: Dried or fresh?

Andrew: Either, it is up to you, but I have never found fresh pasta in any Italian supermarket.

Dawn: I suppose if you had the time and inclination, you could make your own pasta and it’s worth remembering that there are some really great ones to buy with herbs and add-ins that are simply amazing to eat.

  • Serve with parmesan and plenty of black pepper. Enjoy with a fresh green salad and a nice Chianti!

Dawn: Sounds delicious! Room for one more?

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