Friday, 13 November 2015

Mince wonder part 3: Bolognaise

It was only a matter of time before I got round to posting my version of this old kitchen standard and it's yet another addition to my array of mince wonders following chilli con carne and shepherds' pie. Mince doesn't cost a lot and can also be replaced by veggie mince if necessary, making it flesh-dodger friendly, so this dish is really versatile, tasty and cheap. It's the ultimate student/laddish meal but nice enough for a more sedate dinner with polite company.

It's a cliché to refer to the 1970s as the decade that style forgot, but this isn't really fair. Sure, the fashion was largely pretty ludicrous, but this was also the decade that gave us punk and decimalisation. It's also the time when we Brits started to look to our new European chums for food and style tips. These aspirations to European cool may have left a lot to be desired by today's standards, but then again, you do need to learn to shit in a potty before you can use the toilet.

70s fashion
This much polyester in one location is now banned due to the fire risk

In the 1970s spaghetti bolognaise was the absolute fucking zenith of continental sophistication. In fact this dish is so 70s you could put a droopy moustache on it and call it Peter Wyngarde. I know it's easy to scoff with the benefit of hindsight, but its competition in terms of continental sophistication at the time included crème caramel in plastic potsColman's Beef Bourgignon ready-made sauce mix in a sachet; and Blue fucking Nun Liebfraumilch German white wine, so it won hands down on being something that tasted nice.

Label from a Blue Nun bottle
and a video giving correct response to being offered this awful excuse for wine

Anything from mainland Europe was considered stylish. Even British cars of the time had an aura of continental mystique about them with names like Allegro, Cortina and Capri. This was, of course, long before our era of Easyjet and Ryanair flights, the Channel Tunnel and the EU. This was an age when these places across the Channel in Europe were exotic and sophisticated. They were separated from us by water, they were "other". These countries were so exotic you needed visas to enter them, so sophisticated that you could get ameobic dysentery from merely looking at a glass of the local tap water (or so travel advice of the time would lead you to believe).

Europe had an edge, it seemed a dangerous place. There was often a pervading mistrust of Germany from those who had lived through WWII. France ate funny-shaped bread, molluscs and amphibians. Spain was just recovering from being under a Fascist dictatorship and was on the verge of a military coup in order to return it to one at any time (yes, this really almost happened).

Nowadays things are different. Forty years on and we find that we Brits are more worldly wise. Foreign travel is nothing we think twice about. We pay the price of a pint of Belgian lager (brewed under licence in Wales) allowing us to be herded onto a 737 to Barcelona or Bratislava for a weekend. We get there and immediately find an Irish pub to get shit-faced on Guinness while watching the Man U game before getting a Big Mac on the way back to our hotel to crash out before a full English in the morning to dissolve the hangover. Like I said, exotic and oh-so-fucking worldly.

As I've alluded to in other blog entries, this was my very first taste of Italian food. As I've also alluded to, I was raised in a house that was hardly an outpost of culinary exploration. Bolognaise in my family went through various incarnations as I grew up though, in fairness, many of them were actually quite tasty if not authentically Bolognaise. For example, baked beans don't really grow on trees in the fair city of Bologna, but did find their way into some of my parents' incarnations of this ragout but made for a reasonably palatable dinner. My version is a bit more authentic and certainly doesn't have baked fucking beans in it.

500g beef mince (or vegetarian mince if you are so inclined)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finey chopped
1medium carrot, finely chopped
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed
250g mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 tins of tomatoes (or replace 1 tin with a 500g carton of pasata)
2 table spoons of tomato puree
1 tsp mixed, dried herbs
1 bay leaf
1 tsp paprika
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 beef stock cube
150ml red wine
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Worcester sauce
Dash of Tabasco sauce (optional)
2 tsp dark soy sauce

The vegetables
Carrot, celery, garlic, onion and mushrooms.
Note how finely chopped they are, apart from the mushrooms

In a heavy saucepan dry-fry the mince to brown it for about 5 minutes (essentially until it's cooked), making sure it's well broken up with no lumps, and pour it into a sieve to get rid of the excess fat.

To the empty pan add the olive oil and heat on medium before adding the onion and garlic to fry for 5 minutes.

Throw in the celery and carrot and gently cook for 10 more minutes, ong enough to soften, then add the mushrooms for another 5 minutes until they look cooked.

Return the cooked mince to the pan and add the tomatoes, breaking them up (or use chopped tinned tomatoes), before stirring well and adding the herbs, bay leaf, paprika, black pepper and mix well.

Crumble the stock cube in and squirt in the tomato puree, again stirring well.

Pour in the wine, balsamic vinegar, Worcester sauce and (if you're using it) Tabasco.

Stir well, bring to the boil then turn down the heat to simmer with the lid on for at least an hour, ideally two or more.

Keep checking intermittently and stirring. Leave the lid off for a while if the sauce is too liquid.

It's a pan of pasta sauce
What more do you want?

This recipe makes plenty for four adults.
Serve with pasta (well, duh!) and bread

As a pasta sauce this needs to be nice and smooth, so the onions, carrot and celery need to be finely chopped. Also, make sure the mince is nicely broken up when frying it. The mushrooms add a bit of texture so need to be chopped larger. It's actually a good way to hide vegetables if you have a sprog with an aversion to culinary plant matter.

Using pasata instead of a tin of tomatoes makes a more smooth, almost creamy texture. Tinned tomatoes are cheaper though

Tabasco adds a bit of subtle piquancy so don't use too much. It's not supposed to be "spicy". On the other hand, my piquant might leave some chilli-dodgers with steam blowing out of their ears. These things are relative so leave it out if you or your guest(s) are effete.

Pasta for this is traditionally spaghetti, but in the Sweary household we tend to use something that takes less cutlery skill to eat, like penne or fusilli, mainly because Mrs Sweary can't eat spaghetti without looking like an extra from True Blood when she's finished (see picture for an idea of what I mean).

Darling, but you've got a wee bit of sauce round your mouth.
I told you you should have ordered penne for your bolognaise instead of spaghetti

70s fashion pics from and Blue Nun label image from Messy eater picture sourced from

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