Bolognese sauce, or ragu, originating from Bologna in Northern Italy is a rich, thick and full-bodied meat sauce. When I read this, I was very confused because most Spaghetti Bolognese dishes I’ve eaten, were more tomato concentrated than meaty, and that’s because the rest of the world took upon themselves to modify a perfectly good basic recipe and flood their sauces with too much tomato and vegetable ingredients. “Ragu” in Italian is derived from the verb “ragouter”, which directly translated is “to stimulate the appetite”. Now, when I was younger, due to Spaghetti Bolognese becoming so overly tomato-ey, this dish definitely did NOT stimulate my appetite.
Not only did I detest the intense tomato paste taste, but I also never took a liking to dried herbs and spices like origanum and basil. Therefore I could never really understand why it was such a well-loved, homely family meal.
Now, things have changed, and evidently, so have my taste buds. Well, kind of. I still don’t like tomato-based dishes much, but I have developed a taste for basil and origanum. So, I had to play around with that sauce. I’m proud to say that I have now found a way around the blandness of a stock standard Spaghetti Bolognese that may as well have come straight out of a tin. And a dish that I believe my future kids will be begging for at least once a week.
My secret is sweet chilli sauce, beef stock, the right spices, fresh herbs, portobellini mushrooms and melted mature cheddar cheese. Tasting along the way doesn’t hurt either. By adding ingredients (the right ones of course) as you go, you can guarantee a perfect balance of flavours. It’s something I had to learn slowly over time, but I eventually got there. Too salty? Add a bit of brown sugar. Not meaty enough? Add some beef stock and allow the meat to cook in the stock. It’s like an experiment and the kitchen is your lab. Oh, did I forget to mention that I have a BSc. (Med) (Hons) in Microbiology, Genetics & Forensic Anthropology? Yup, logical, process-oriented and systematic, with just a touch of fun 😉
So, here’s my recipe, cos “I’m bringing MEATY back!”:
- Serves 4
- Cook and prep time: 1 hour
- 3 Cloves of garlic (chopped)
- 500g Beef Mince
- 1 Pack of Portobellini mushrooms (half sliced, half quartered)
- 1 Tin of tomatoes (basil, garlic & origanum flavour)
- 1 Whole onion (half roughly chopped, half diced)
- 1 Handful of Fresh Origanum leaves (chopped)
- 1 Frozen cube of chopped basil *
- Sweet chilli sauce
- Tomato sauce
- Garlic flakes
- Ina Paarman garlic and herb spice
- Robertsons mixed herbs
- Steak and chop spice
- Half a beef cube in half a cup boiled water
- Spaghetti – 4 servings worth
- Olive oil
- Knob of butter
- Mature Cheddar – small amount grated
Once everything is chopped and prepped, start cooking the spaghetti in boiled water with some olive oil and salt, until al dente.
Meanwhile, on medium to high heat, fry half the onion and garlic in some olive oil, then add the mince. Throw in some steak & chop spice and Ina Paarman garlic & herb spice, then fold in and cook the mince through. Empty the contents into a large glass dish.
In the same pan, on medium heat, fry up the rest of the onions and garlic in some more olive oil and fold in the mushrooms and knob of butter. Allow to cook for 30 seconds. Sprinkle some mixed herbs, garlic flakes and half the fresh origanum onto the mushroom mix and fold in. Fry for another 30 seconds. Add the basil cube to the middle of the pan and allow to melt, and then stir in.
Once the basil is fully mixed in, add the mince back to the pan, add the beef stock, mix together and allow to cook on medium heat until half the stock is reduced.
Then, add the tinned tomato, and the desired amount of tomato sauce and sweet chilli sauce. I like a lot of both. Mix up nicely and allow the liquid to cook away substantially on medium to high heat. I don’t like very runny Spag bols and I prefer the mince to soak up all the flavours over time, so I allow the liquid to cook away slowly over 10 or so minutes.
The result is a dish where you can really taste that meaty beef mince, but you also get all the other wonderful flavours of fresh origanum and garlic, a hint of basil, a sauce that is sweet not acidic, and mushrooms that not only add a veggie element so we feel like we are eating healthily, but also absorb the smack of the sauce which just pops in your mouth with every chew. Served over your al dente spaghetti and topped with grated cheese, you couldn’t ask for a better dish to keep the family or friends coming back for more.
I hate wasting food, so I chop up what is left of my fresh herbs and I pack them into ice cube trays, fill the rest of the space in each mould with water, and freeze for later use. Works like a charm for use in saucy dishes! If you need herbs for garnish however, then rather buy it fresh. You can also fill the ice cube tray moulds with olive oil if desired, instead of water. It freezes just as well, and this way, you don’t need to thaw the herbs if you are adding it straight to hot oil. Water and hot oil are not friends, in case you didn’t know. Don’t try this at home. 😉