We all like to try new recipes, exciting dishes from around the globe. I’m a sucker for new and strange ingredients. I’ve still got an unopened bottle of Sambal Oelek (an Indonesian chilli sauce) in the cupboard that I bought a year ago. I try at least three or four completely new dishes each month. But I suspect many of you, as I do, go back to time old classics as a ‘treat’. Whenever I ask my chap to choose what he wants me to cook on a Friday night as a special meal I can almost guarantee it will be one of the following he asks for: lasagne, roast beef with all the trimmings and Yorkshire puddings or spaghetti bolognaise.
Of course you might think these dishes are simple, and to an extent they are – I can do them all with my eyes closed, but at the same time they are difficult to get perfect. One night it can be tremendous, another time you do something slightly different and it leaves you disappointed. You can also keep tinkering until you get it just as you’d like it. Some like their spaghetti bolognese sloppy and loose, others thick and rich; some like it with a strong tomato flavour, others create one using just red wine and beef stock.
I’m somewhere in the middle and while I’m all for authenticity I do not believe there is a definitive spaghetti bolognese recipe out there, nor should we care to follow it when in our own homes. In fact it doesn’t really exist in Italy, and even when you do find a ragu sauce it is most often paired with tagliatelle, not spaghetti pasta.
What follows is my recipe in case you are searching for one that suits you. We like it thick and rich, but loose enough to toss through the pasta (do not dollop it on top please, that is so 1980s). It’s also has quite a strong tomato taste, but I incorporate red wine and plenty of herbs as well. You can finish with parmesan, but it is just as good with some strong cheddar.
(This makes enough for a family of four, we sometimes greedily finish it all or portion some up to freeze)
1 large, or two small, red onions finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1 large stick of celery, or two small, grated
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g lean beef mince
1 small wine glass of good red wine
1tsp dried oregano
1-2 tbsp tomato puree
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
Handful of mushrooms, quartered (optional)
Big bunch of basil, roughly chopped
1. In a large high-sided frying pan with lid gently sweat the onion, carrot and celery until soft (about 10 minutes), add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more.
2. Turn up the heat and add the beef mince, keep it moving and fry until browned all over. Tip in the wine and allow to bubble away furiously for a few minutes.
3. Add the tomato puree and stir in, add the oregano and the canned tomatoes. Season with half a teaspoon of sugar, a good pinch of sea salt and pepper (adjust seasoning at the end to your taste, you’ll probably need a little more salt).
4. Put the lid on and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove lid, throw in mushrooms if using, and leave lid off simmering away as long as you can – at least 40 minutes but an hour is ideal. By which time it will have thickened and got much richer.
5. Add your chopped basil and stir in. Toss into freshly cooked spaghetti, serve in deep bowls and sprinkle with cheese.