Spaghetti bolognese

This Christmas, I’d like to give you my bolognese sauce recipe.

My recipe shares some similarities with a proper Italian ragù, but it’s not what you’d call an authentic recipe. It’s just a really good meat sauce recipe for pasta. Kids like it, and adults do too. I make it for dinner at home, and I make it for dinners with friends.

This recipe makes a big batch of sauce – could easily serve 8, maybe more. I usually make a batch this big and freeze some for easy dinners later. If you prefer to make enough just for dinner (and maybe some leftovers), halve everything.

Pretty much everything is negotiable, in terms of quantities. Sometimes I go to make this and discover I don’t have carrots or celery, so I just leave them out. Or I have more capsicum in the crisper than anyone honestly needs, so I throw in more than usual.

With the optional anchovies and bacon/speck, most often I use one or the other. You can use both and sometimes I do, but either ingredient does the salty-umami thing they’ve been seconded to do.

  • This recipe is dairy free, if you don’t use the optional cream.
  • It’s gluten free if you use gluten free pasta.
  • It is not very vegetarian and you can’t really make it so: meat substitutes won’t work so well with this kind of longer simmer time.

Ingredients:

Olive oil
1 medium to large onion, finely chopped
2-3 stalks Italian parsley, finely chopped
2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed a bit
1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced
3-4 celery sticks (without leaves, though you could finely chop some and use them too), diced
1 large capsicum/sweet pepper, diced
3-4 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 rashers of chopped bacon or a big handful of finely chopped speck (optional)
1kg beef or pork mince, or a mixture of both (mixture is ideal)*
1/2 to 1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste**
1 400g can crushed Italian tomatoes
2-4 dried bay leaves
1-2 tsp dried organo
grated nutmeg to taste – I run a whole nutmeg over a grater maybe 12-15 times.
Salt and pepper
More chopped parsley (optional)
1-2 tbsp cream (optional)
Freshly cooked pasta
Parmesan for serving

Method

  1. The chopping, oh the chopping. Chop everything before you start. Put some music on and relax into it – you’re going to be chopping for a while, but it’s worth it.*
  2. Glug some olive oil into a big pan over medium high heat, either a deep frying pan or a larger pot. Add onion and stir gently until translucent. Add parsley and move around the pan until it’s fragrant.
  3. Pour in your chopped vegies: carrot, celery, and capsicum. Sauté until soft. If you’re using anchovy fillets, add them now too. Stir here and there until the anchovies break down and almost disappear.
  4. You can either leave the vegies in the pan at this point, or pour them out into a bowl to set aside for the moment. It all depends on how big your pan is and whether it’s maintaining heat well enough to cook the meat.
  5. Add bacon/speck to the pan if using and cook until the fat is translucent – if you’ve taken the vegies out, you might need a smidge more oil. Then add the beef and/or pork. Brown the meat slightly and add the bruised cloves of garlic. Keep cooking, turning the meat occasionally until it’s well browned.
  6. Vermouth time! Dry white wine is also fine, but I think dry vermouth gives a little lift to savoury dishes. You want to let this cook down until the liquid is nearly gone. Then add tomato paste and stir through until the meat is coated evenly.
  7. If you removed the vegies and set them aside, add them back in now and stir through.
  8. Add liquid to the pan:
    • Pour in the tinned chopped tomatoes and juice.
    • If you’re planning to serve this in the next hour, add enough water (or stock if you prefer) so that it’s quite loose and watery, but still looks a bit like a pasta sauce.
    • If you have the luxury of slow cooking this over a few hours, add as much liquid as you like. It will all cook off and you’ll still likely need to top it up once or twice.
  9. Toss in oregano, bay leaves, and grate in nutmeg.
  10. Once it starts to bubble, turn down to a simmer and let sit, stirring occasionally, for as long as it takes for the sauce to reduce and thicken. If I’m slow cooking with lots of liquid, I might stir every half hour at first. If it’s a quicker cook, or if I’m nearing serving time, I’ll check it more often.
  11. Optional step: once the sauce is pretty well done, stir in a tablespoon or two of cream. A proper ragu normally includes milk in an earlier step – I do that sometimes and it’s very nice, but usually if I want to make my sauce richer and creamier I stir through a little cream at the end instead.
  12. Another optional step: stir through a big handful of chopped Italian parsley. I nearly always do this – it freshens the sauce up.
  13. Search through the sauce with a spoon and fish out the garlic cloves. (Or don’t, and just pick them out when you find them as you serve.) Season generously with salt and pepper.
  14. Mix some sauce through freshly cooked pasta. Serve into bowls and top with a big spoonful or two of sauce, topped with grated parmesan if that’s how you like it.

BONUS TIP: As soon as you’ve drained your cooked pasta, lob in a piece of butter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Mix through to coat. Then mix through the sauce as in step 14.

* You can use finely chopped beef and pork if you want to be fancy. It is very good if you do it this way, though it’s a lot of chopping! If you use chopped beef and/or pork, it’s best if you let the sauce simmer for a few hours so the meat breaks down. It’s not as good for a 30-40 minute simmer.

** About 3 Australian (20ml) tablespoons, maybe 4 (15ml) tablespoons everywhere else)

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