Getting meaty with it – our not-so bolognese

Hello!!  I thought I’d kick things off with a family recipe, and where better to start than pasta?  My mum is Italian, and we grew up eating traditional Italian food (though, to be fair, we just called it ‘food’ ;)).  This is a recipe for what we called ‘meat sauce’, but it’s all quite a loose concept.  Bolognese, spal bol, call it what you will!  This would be amazing made using lentils, too, replacing all or some of the meat.  Alternatively, you could use a meat free mince, if that’s your preference.  Do with it what you will, but the bare bones are included here.

The concept of spaghetti bolognese is a tricky one. On the one hand, it’s a dish that is intrinsically part of the nation’s (UK) imagination. On the other hand, what we generally know as spag bol is an almost completely inauthentic reworking of an Italian classic dish. And that’s fine, you need to cook, and eat, according to your own tastes! Today, though we’ll stick to the classics, shall we?

It’s worth noting that ‘Italian cuisine’ is very much limited to and inspired by the different regions, the north-south divide is still strong, and ultimately, everyone’s interpretation of each dish is down to where they live, how their mother made it, and perhaps more importantly, how their Nonna made it!

With this in mind, I’ll tell you how we do it, and from there, it’s totally up to you!

The most important thing for a successful and delicious meat sauce is time. This sauce needs a good 4 hours, minimum, put aside to make it. Wait until the weekend, or a day off where you feel like doing some batch-cooking, and go for it! You need plenty of vegetables, some decent red wine, and a nice big pan to cook it all up in.

Unfortunately, my own Nonna is no longer with us, however my own mum is more than able to take up the cooking mantle, and her recipe is as follows:

This recipe makes 10 (very) generous portions of meat sauce, so divvy up however you please!

• • • •

1kg lean minced beef, or 500g each minced beef & minced pork (this produces a lighter end result, but go all beef if you prefer). You can also swap out some of the mince for a few good quality sausages, if you fancy

4-5 medium onions

5-6 cloves garlic

5-6 carrots (this is for sweetness, so go according to your own taste here)

1 bulb celery

1 can tomatoes, chopped

1-2 tbsp tomato purée

2 stock cubes (mum uses veg, I use beef, again, go with your preference!)

1/2 bottle red wine

Salt & pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1. Prepare your veg. Peel everything, then roughly chop the carrots, quarter the onions, cut the celery into large chunks. Put the onion, garlic, carrots and celery into a good processor and whizz them up until they are finely chopped – you may prefer to do this in batches. This is your soffrito.

2. Bung the soffrito into a large, heavy-based saucepan (make sure you have a lid that fits!), add the oil, and heat slowly, all together. You want to cook your soffrito until it is fragrant, the onions translucent, and there is no more liquid coming from the veg; you want the pan to look fairly dry (er, but not burnt. If it starts catching, you’ve gone too far, sorry, but add a bit of water into the bottom of the pan and you can save it!)

3. Add the meat to the veg. Turn up the heat and give it all a good stir, breaking up any large lumps. The meat may release a little bit of liquid as it cooks, but that’s ok, you’ve got the lean stuff, you won’t be swamped in fat! Just let the liquid evaporate off and cook the meat until it starts to caramelise a bit…

4. Next, vino! Pour the wine into the pan, and yep, you guessed it, let the wine evaporate off, and cook til it turns all syrupy in the pan!

5. Now it’s time for your tomatoes, and stock cubes, and some water. Add the tomatoes to the pan, crumble in your stock cubes, and some hot water. You need enough water so that it rises about an inch above the sauce base.

6. Season everything, then cover and turn up the heat until the sauce is at a rolling boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer gently, still covered, for a couple of hours or so. Give it a stir every so often. Then remove the lid, and let the sauce reduce (this should take around 1-1.5 hours). The end result will be quite a dense, though not dry, meaty sauce. It’s not a tomatoey, liquid end result. The meat should be meltingly soft, and the veg all but dissolved.

Serve with your favourite pasta (it’s with rigatoni in the pic below), with rice, or even use it as a base and turn it into something else. But if you’ve not tried this method before, give it a go!

Buon appetito!

This blog post was originally posted here, on my other site 🙂

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