My uncle and aunt came to visit our new place on the weekend. That’s the Italian uncle. Not that could you could tell.
I don’t get to see him as often as I would like, but hopefully with having moved closer there will be more time for that. The rest of my family remark how similar we are.
It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to food, and I showed him the knives I got given when my grandfather, and his father, passed away a few years ago.
Its such a pity that apart from my own scattered memories, these two knives are the only keepsakes I have of my grandparents. We have no family recipes, no stash of secrets on how to prepare the best passata, no stories of their local produce. My grandmother was quite sick for most of my childhood and my main memory was my grandfather looking after her. Delaying his Christmas lunch until she had eaten.
Spaghetti Bolognaise was a staple growing up, though with 2 working parents and 4 crazy kids most of the time we resorted to Dolmio’s simmering on the stove for as long as us hungry terrors would allow it. I remember between the 6 of us we would go through 2 packets of pasta and still demand desert. No one was counting carbs back then, I was skinny as a rake.
Since I have nothing passed down many generations, my recipe is the best bits from the great collection of cookbooks I have, from that crazy google world, and watching so many other variations of it. I remember reading an article recently on what Australia’s national dish currently is, moving away from what could have been sausages and mashed potato, or a meat pie. More modern variations were crumbed calamari, or some of our salmon either smoked, roasted whole, filletted. For me, Spaghetti Bolognaise (or Spag Bol as we called it) is almost a stable in every household. Every house has their own secret ingredient, their own perfect way of making it.
Mine has 3 and none of them are all that much of a secret;
Initially, I simmer olive oil with garlic, onion and some shredded sopressa. This oil gives a wonderful depth of flavour to the dish.
Give the bolognaise sauce as much time as you can. I try to simmer for around 3-4 hours, then cool and put in the fridge, ready to eat the next day. Yep. I’m that serious about my bolognaise. (And when I say “try”, often it doesn’t last the evening.)
- Taste Test
I remember in the early days of visiting my grandparents for Christmas, it was traditional to layer some of the bolognaise sauce over a piece of fresh bread to taste test. Really, it was just an excuse to eat some of it, and the only official feedback granddad got back was a series of grunting from us 4 kids which translated roughly into; “Good, good, more please”
So finally, my recipe;
Serves 4, low cost, low difficulty
Every bolognaise sauce I cook is slightly different, and is made with whatever I have left in the fridge. The quanities are never measured, but these are roughly how much I use.
- A large glug of quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, diced finely
- 3 cloves of garlic, diced
- 6 slices of sliced sopressa (is that a thing?)
- 1 stick of celery, diced
- 1/2 a carrot, diced
- 6 sundried tomatos, diced
- 2 mushrooms, diced
- 3 anchovies
- 750 grams of fatty mince* (at room temperature)
- a healthy splash of red wine
- splash of wochestshire sauce
- 30ml (or a small can / tub) of tomato paste
- a 300-500ml jar of passata (made fresh a few weeks earlier)
- a fistful of mixed dried herbs (whatever medeteranian herbs you have, i generally use oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage)
- 3 bay leaves
- a large pinch of dried chilli flakes
- Water (or stock) as required
- Salt and pepper
*Note on the mince. Authentic recipes call for half pork and half veal mince. Guy Grossi even uses a small amount of chicken mince in his. Best flavour is with the pork and veal but I will use whatever I can get. I quite like using part lamb mince. I say fatty mince because the flavour comes from the fat within the mince. The leanest mince you can find is good for you, but not as good. For you.
- Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the onion, garlic and sopressa. Simmer lightly until fragrant.
- Add the celery, carrot, sundried tomato, mushrooms, anchovies. Simmer again for 5-10 minutes until the celery has softened.
- Bump up the heat to high and add the mince. Stir briefly to mix through but then leave for the mince to fry, not stew.
- Mix again and leave for a few minutes.
- Add the wochestshire sauce, the red wine, the herbs, the chilli flakes and the tomato paste. Stir vigorously, using a chopping motion to “cut up” the chunks of beef mince.
- Add the passata and the bay leaves, mix well. At this point, your sauce should be a little wet (as it will reduce down). If it isn’t add some water (I usually fill the jar of passata with water to get the last bits). Season carefully (be careful of the salt in the anchovies)
- Bring to boil and simmer for approximately 3 hours. Stir every now and then to ensure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. If its running a little dry add some more water or stock.
- Once it has simmered for around 3 hours its good enough to eat. If you can handle it, let it cool and stick it in the fridge for tomorrow.
- The next day put it back on the stove to warm again and check for seasoning. You need to be careful you don’t season too early as the anchovies will add some salt
- Serve with your favourite spaghetti or penne (I prefer penne actually, I should call this penne bolognaise) cooked as per the directions on the pack.