Bolognese is probably one of the first meals I cooked. I don’t knwo that it would be right to say that I learned to cook bolognese, as I don’t recall finding and following a particular recipe from way back when, but do remember early experiments with mince, chopped tomatoes and onions trying to recreate what I knew, in my head, the end result should be. The way I make it has constantly evolved, up until the current version, below, with tweaking after something I’ve read, a new recipe in a magazine perhaps, or more likely because of something in the fridge that needed using up. Like all good recipes, it’s not set in stone, and don’t feel you should follow the instructions to the letter. Add mushrooms if you like, or use a glass of red wine in place of the marsala. I was about to type ‘I’m not convinced this is an authentic version, not exactly like something you might get served up in Bologna’, but actually, so many people cook this in so many different ways, I don’t think it really matters. Do what works for you, telling yourself that delicious beats authentic every time if it makes you feel better. A final note, on a personal choice, I much prefer linguine to spaghetti (despite this usually, and strangely unattractively, still being referred to as Spag-Bol in Rupert’s kitchen). Don’t know why, just the way it is. Perhaps because it’s meatier, or seems to hold the sauce better, and on that note, a good quality, bronze-dyed pasta has a much better texture than the bog-standard stuff, and will cling to your sauce well. Whatever you choose, allow 75 – 100g pasta per person, plunged into well-salted, boiling water and cooked for the time given on the packet. But do start testing it a minute or two before the end of that time, as often the instructions over-estimate how long it will take to get perfect pasta with a little bite.

olive oil

2 carrots

2 sticks celery

2 cloves garlic

2 onions

70g diced pancetta

1 red pepper

500g good quality, preferably organic, beef mince

a splash of marsala

2 tablespoons organic tomato puree

2 400g tins organic chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

a couple of bay leaves

a splash of balsamic vinegar

pasta, 75 – 100g uncooked weight per person (and see introduction), Parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves, if desired, to serve

Peel the carrots and chop both them and the celery sticks into a couple of large pieces. Process them, along with the two garlic cloves, peeled, until you have a finely chopped, almost-mush. (Alternatively, chop them as small as you can be bothered.) This adds both sweetness and flavour to the final sauce, and helps it to be nice and thick. (If you like, you can include the onions in this mush, but I prefer them chunkier, adding, along with the red pepper, texture to the sauce.) Heat a little oil in a large pan, add the carrot-celery-garlic mixture and gently soften, stirring occassionally, over a low heat. Meanwhile, peel and dice the onions, de-seed and dice the pepper, and add them to the pan along with the pancetta, increasing the heat a little. Keeping everything moving, you’re aiming to soften the onion and at the same time fry the pancetta, which will render its fat and make everything delicious. Once you’re happy and things are smelling good, add the mince to the pan and brown it, breaking up any lumps with your chosen implement.

Add a good splash of marsala, letting it bubble for a minute, before adding the tomato puree. Give everything another good stir. You want the tomato puree to almost dissolve into the rest of the ingredients, rather than settling in lumps, and at the same time let it cook for a minute or two. Add the chopped tomatoes, swilling each tin out with a little water and adding this too. Stir in the dried herbs, push in the bay leaves, let it come to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, stick a lid on it and let it quietly and slowly bubble away. Leave it to do its thing for at least half an hour, but, with the occassional stir, it will be happy for longer, a couple of hours even.

When you’re ready to eat, stir in the balsamic and let it simmer for a minute more. Spoon over hot pasta, adorning with the cheese, fresh basil leaves, both or neither. Enjoy!

Serves 4 – 6



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