Guess what the best dish is for cooking in busy essay time. No, not ready made pad thai from Marks. It’s spaghetti alla bolognese!
Before I start any of this, I have to vent a couple of things that bother me. Bear with me.
In the UK (and everywhere, but more so in the UK) there’s a couple of serious misunderstandings about spaghetti alla bolognese. The first, and as far as I’m concerned, the most grave, is that it should be called ‘a spag bol’. It should not. No thing should ever be called by a compound of its initial letters. Names made up of the initials letters of several words are always ugly. Velcro. Spork. Banoffee pie. Turducken. (The horror.) I couldn’t find any evidence for plexiglass but it’s one of the most unsavoury sounding words I know of so I’m pretty sure it’s one of them.
A spag bol sounds like something you use to subdue aggressive inmates of prisons for the criminally insane. (“Carl, we need a couple of milligrams of spagbol here, old Smith has gone bonkers again!”) Or like something you use to fix your bathtub when it’s leaking bathwater into your downstairs neighbour’s flat. (Spagbol. The secure product that’ll waterproof anything! Available at your local hardware store.) Surely such a name shouldn’t be used for food!
Then, there’s the idea that any sauce that includes mince and tomatoes is ‘a spag bol’. People stick in mushrooms, bell peppers, whatever’s left in the veg drawer will be fine! But adding more ingredients doesn’t actually make it better, often they don’t even go well together! Well, maybe that’s a question of personal taste, but let me put it this way: the traditional recipe keeps it simple and I really do think that’s the best way to have it.
It’s none of my business what people call their food or how they prepare it, really. But go on, give it a shot, traditional Spaghetti alla Bolognese, the real thing, from Bologna. It involves only the following:
- half a wee onion
- half a wee carrot
- not even an entire stalk of celery
- a wee clove of garlic, if you fancy
- a load of mince, about 250gr, preferably from some healthy, free range cow (you could also go for 50/50 beef-pork, I prefer just beef though)
- if you can get your hands on them, 50gr of lardons (otherwise use unsmoked bacon or pancetta)
- 2 tbsp of tomato purée
- about 125ml stock (beef or veg, I use a mix of both)
- a glass of red wine
- a cup of milk
- knob of butter, enough oil, salt, pepper
These quantities are for two hungry people.
The reason that this is the perfect dish to cook in exam time is that it takes forever, but most of it is waiting time. Once you get the preparation ready it’s peanuts. So you can sit down at the kitchen table with your books and laptop and savour the pleasant smell whilst you work. You only ever have to interrupt your studies for a few minutes and after about 4 hours, you’ll be rewarded for all of your hard work with the best sauce ever.
Peel the carrot and the onion, take the ends of the celery and chop super finely or stick them all in a food processor. Heat butter and oil in a pan and gently fry the veg. Stick the lardons in the same food processor and grind it all up. Add to the veg once that looks done, then add the mince as well. Turn down the heat to medium or low-medium. Once it’s all cooked properly (and this might well take about half an hour, so you could sit down and study another chapter now), add the wine. Leave it, no lid on the pan, to evaporate completely, this will probably take about half an hour as well.
Dilute the tomato puree in some stock, add to the mince. Add enough salt and a wee bit of pepper and leave it on low fire to simmer for an hour and a half, occasionally add some stock if you need to.
Then, finally, just before taking the sauce off the fire, add some milk. Not necessarily the whole cup, as much as you like. Serve with any kind of pasta you want and topped with a load of parmesan.
The recipe I always use is from Giallo Zafferano, an excellent Italian website with all kinds of traditional and modern Italian recipes. Click here if you want to see their recipe and a wee video of how to make this sauce with Sonia, the GialloZafferano chef.