Ok so I’m going to start with a cliche! This is an old recipe taught to me by my mother. Mum learnt this one from an Italian family she boarded with while studying in Brisbane, way before I was born. The basics are the same as she was taught, except she’s taken to adding Old Tawny Port as well. This makes for an incredibly rich and robust Bolognese sauce. I’m not a big fan of Port, so I prefer to use a good red wine, which I feel gives a slightly more balanced Bolognese sauce. Both are good, but I just find Port a bit overpowering and it doesn’t seem to give the same complex subtle flavours you get with a good red!
This is actually the very first dish I ever remember learning how to cook. Mum was determined that all her kids would be able to fend for themselves in the kitchen when they left home. This is the first dish she taught all us kids to cook, and it’s the first dish I taught to my son. It’s also an easy dish to learn, and the basis for many pasta sauce variations. Oh and for the garlic wimps reading this, the finished product isn’t “garlicky”. The long, slow cooking method allows all the flavours to fuse into an incredible gastronomic delight. I was raised on this pasta sauce, and many times I’ve been disappointed by the Bolognese sauce served in Italian restaurants! This is definitely one dish so good you might just get whacked for making it.
1 large onion, finely diced
4-6 garlic cloves, minced (1-2 if you’re a garlic wimp)
1 kg mince
1 tin roma tomatoes, chopped (~425 g – including liquid)
1 tin tomato supreme
1 tin tomato puree
2 tbls tomato paste
1 cup red wine or 1/2 cup port
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tbl dried basil
1/2 tbl dried oregano
- First sautee the onions in some olive oil. You want them to get to the point where they start to go clear. Moderate heat not high heat works best, and it helps to use a good heavy base saucepan or pan.
- Once the onions start to go clear add the mince and garlic. Keep the meat moving so that it browns and breaks up. If the mince doesn’t break up very well, add about a 1/4 cup of water.
- Once the meat has browned, add the tomato ingredients and the wine or port. Reduce the heat so that the sauce is simmering, not boiling. Depending on the size of your pot / pan, this can take a while, and will create some spatter. A spatter guard is great if you have one, or if you don’t have one you can partially cover the pot with the lid. The sauce needs to be left to reduce down to the rich velvety sauce that is perfect with pasta.
- The sauce usually takes about 2 hours to reduce in a pot and maybe 30 minutes in a large frypan. This is slow food, not fast food, and the wait is worth it. Don’t forget to stir the sauce every 5-10 minutes, as it can stick and burn onto the bottom of the pot very easily.
- Depending on how you like your sauce, you can add the herbs early or later during the reduction step. The bay leaves should be thrown in at the start of reducing the sauce, and I tend to add the other herbs when it’s about half reduced. You can add them earlier, but you’ll lose some of the herb flavours.
- The sauce is done when it has reduced to a thick sauce with little visible liquid on top. You want the sauce to be able to stick and coat the pasta, not be like a soup. When it starts to bubble a bit more furiously, make sure you turn the heat down a little to prevent burning. This is also the time to put the pot of salted water on to bring to the boil for cooking the pasta.
- Once the sauce is done, cover and take off the heat. If it tastes a little bit dry, add a little of the spaghetti water to moisten it. Cook spaghetti according to instructions, so that it is al-dente. Serve the pasta either mixed through the sauce (my preference) or with the sauce ladled over the top, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. A good red wine, garlic or herb bread and a fresh garden salad make excellent accompaniments.
This where you can really lift your sauce to the next level. The idea is you add different ingredients to the base sauce above and you get great variations that take the one recipe to many!
Some of my favourite variations are:
- Adding mushrooms – mushrooms add something to the flavour profile that takes the dish to another level. I’m particularly fond of Swiss brown mushrooms, but button mushrooms are great for the little bites they provide.
- Substitute half the mince for another mince type. Traditional Bolognese sauce should be 50/50 beef and pork mince, and when I tried this the first time I found it creates a more tender meat sauce. It’s related to the different fats you get from different animals. I’ve even done this with half kangaroo mince and half pork mince, and that was excellent.
- Change your herb and spice mixture. Mixing up the quantities and replacing the oregano with majoram for example gives subtle variations. Even substituting fresh herbs for dry changes the resulting sauce.
- Add a can of red kidney beans, and possibly some corn kernels, toss in some chilli powder and stir through refried beans, and you have the perfect base sauce for tacos or burritos.