What would we do without our beloved spag bol? It's one of those magical meals that everyone loves - the bambinos have been fans since they were babies, and my walls still bear the stains of many a gleefully flung spaghetti strand. I find it as comforting to cook as it is to eat, because of how the simplicity of the ingredients and cooking process somehow leads to something extraordinarily tasty.
I've tried all sorts of different tweaks to the main veg/beef/tinned tomatoes recipe. Like adding milk, which I don't think makes any noticeable difference whereas Mary Berry's recipe using double cream makes a deliciously rich sauce. Baking it makes an even easier job of things as, once all the ingredients are combined, you just stick it in the oven on a low heat for a few hours. Until recently I'd settled upon adding a pinch each of cinnamon and sugar to my bolognese, using whole plum tomatoes instead of chopped ones as I find them less watery, and saving chopping time by sticking the soffritto ingredients (carrots, celery and onion; Italians have a name for this trio as it is the magic base to so many of their dishes) in the food processor.
However, in my search for the perfect bolognese recipe I have recently made a radical refinement, having discovered that a truly authentic Italian 'ragu' uses only tomato puree rather than any tinned tomatoes, as they can dilute the taste of the meat which is meant to be the star of the show. The result is a rich, thick, intensely flavoured, scrumptious bolognese, which clings nicely to the pasta. We had it with a new pasta shape, 'Tripolini' - like wide, frilly tagliatelle... which caused much excitement in our house once I'd managed to persuade bambino that they weren't 'ewww squid legs'. I also threw in some courgette that was hanging around in the fridge, much to the bambinos' initial disapproval, although they found the bolognese so delicious that they temporarily forgot their courgette-aversion. Result!
1 stick celery
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500g beef mince
a glass of red wine (optional - can be replaced with more water when you add it later in the recipe)
2 beef stock cubes
1 bay leaf
1 red onion
3 heaped tbsps tomato purée
250ml boiling water
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sugar or generous squirt of maple syrup, date nectar, honey...
- Finely chop your carrot, celery, and onion - or whizz them up in the blender. This mix is your 'soffritto'.
- Fry the soffritto in a large pan over a medium heat and sweat for about 10 mins until soft.
- Add the garlic and cinnamon and stir for a couple of minutes until starting to brown.
- Add the beef and cook until browned all over.
- Pour in the wine and give it a good stir - cook for a few minutes so that the alcohol evaporates.
- Crumble the stock cubes into the mixture, add the tomato puree, sugar and bay leaf - stir well then add the water.
- Put the lid on the pan and simmer on a low heat for an hour, or longer if you have time but don't worry if not, it will still be rich and glossy and gorgeous. Check it regularly and top up with a little water if necessary but remember this is not meant to be a saucy sauce!? Leave it to the end before seasoning, as you may find it isn't necessary.