Since being alive on this planet I have learned a few things, I now know fleetwood mac are the greatest band ever, I know what it means to be loved and love but more importantly I know what good food tastes like, and it’s something I vehemently defend. When I was a young adult I wasn’t much of a cook, my culinary skills stretched as far as buying a tin of chicken in white sauce and microwave rice, heating it and calling it gourmet cuisine. However I hope I have come along way since then. There is a dish that we Brits and many other nations seem to abuse so much it’s as unrecognisable as say putting tomatoes on a slice of toast and calling it a pizza, it is of course the bolognese or ‘spag bol’ as we so affectionately call it. We are all guilty of buying a jar of ready made sauce and bunging it into a pan with some mince, cooking them together for 20 minutes before slaking over a plate of watery over cooked spaghetti, turning what should be a rich meaty dish into a vapid pool of sweet sickly additive ridden sauce of crapness. I live in an optimistic world when it comes to bolognese, I find myself scouring the supermarket shelves for new and exciting sauces hoping to find the holy grail, the one that will give me a proper bolognese ragu, of course I won’t find it and I never will, because you only get that from making it yourself.
The mistake everyone makes is using the wrong pasta, spaghetti is long and thin which is ideal for creamy based dishes such as carbonara but it just simply doesn’t work for bolognese, for that you need a pasta with a good surface area like pappardelle, fettuccine or in this case tagliatelle. This allows the meat and sauce to cling to the pasta. Another mistake people make is making the sauce too runny, a bolognese should be thick almost dry in appearance so that when you dive your fork in it mixes with the pasta and coats every strand.
This recipe is not a quick dinner for after work and requires a few hours cooking, but having said that it does freeze very well, so making a big batch on a lazy Saturday afternoon is a good idea. Freeze any leftovers to have when you like. If you make this please don’t finish the dish with that shameful Parmesan imposter that comes in tubs, use the fresh stuff and grate all of it, put into an old takeaway tub or Tupperware pot and freeze it, using when required, it’s much much better. And don’t throw the Parmesan rind away either, freeze it and pop into casseroles and stews for added savouriness.
The best thing to do is get everything prepped before cooking, so dice the vegetables, weigh out the pancetta etc before you start.
- 800g Beef mince
- 300ml red wine (use one you would drink)
- 400ml passata
- 2 medium onions diced
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 celery stick diced
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 100g smoked pancetta diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Freshly grated Parmesan to serve
- Tagliatelle pasta (about 100g per person)
- Salt and pepper
1. First brown the mince in a little vegetable oil on a high heat, it is best to do it in batches otherwise the meat will stew rather than brown. If the mince is quite fatty make sure you drain this away. Place the mince into a large pan or stock pot.
2. In the same pan add the smoked pancetta and fry until golden and crisp then add to the mince. In the same pan again turn down the heat then add the onions carrot and celery and fry on a gentle heat for 10 minutes until the onions have softened but do not brown the veg, for the last minute of cooking add the garlic. Then add to the mince and pancetta.
3. Taking the same pan turn up to a high heat again and pour in the red wine, boil hard until reduced in volume by half then add to the mince, pancetta and veg. Add the bay leaves and grated nutmeg to the pot before pouring over the passata, season with pepper only as the pancetta is quite salty so taste when cooked and add any salt at the end if needed. Top up with a little water (about 100ml) and simmer on a very low heat until just bubbling for about 1½ – 2 hours stirring occasionally until thick and rich.
4. To make the pasta simply place into rapidly boiling well salted water for about 3-5 minutes, drain well then dress with some good olive oil. Place some pasta into a warmed bowl and top with the bolognese, garnish with plenty of Parmesan and good olive oil. Serve