Four hundred-plus posts on this blog, and there are still some really basic, popular things I’ve not written about. Would you believe that I haven’t cooked a spag bol since 2005? I spent yesterday evening remedying the problem – here’s a recipe for a rich, savoury, gorgeously gloppy version, full of wine and herbs.
As any self-respecting Italian will tell you, if you ordered what we call spaghetti bolognese in Italy, you would get a funny look. In Italy, this sauce is called ragù or ragù alla bolognese, and it’s not usually served with spaghetti – you’re more likely to find your ragù as a layer in a lasagne or served with tagliatelle.
Back in 1992, the folks in Bologna decided that they had had enough of the world’s bastardisation of their hometown sauce, and the Bolognese chapter of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina issued a proclamation. From that point on, bolognese sauce would be defined strictly, and could only be called ragù alla bolognese if it was made with a limited set of ingredients: beef, pancetta, onions, carrots, celery, passata, beef stock, red wine and milk.
Inevitably, I’ve strayed away from the strict letter of the Accademia’s law here in (cough) a few details, but I don’t think you’ll be too saddened by this, because what results is damn tasty. Please use the anchovies even if you don’t usually like them – they add a subtle depth to the sauce, but they don’t make it taste fishy.
To make enough spaghetti bolognese to serve four, you’ll need:
500g ground or minced steak (ground steak is more authentic here, but if you can’t find it, mince is fine)
4 banana shallots
2 bay leaves
2 sticks celery
500g passata (pressed tomatoes)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 cloves garlic
5 sundried tomatoes in oil
¼ bottle red wine
1 ladle beef stock
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large handful fresh oregano
1 large handful fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Parmesan to garnish
Chop the shallots finely and sweat in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid over a low heat in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for about 20 minutes, until translucent but not colouring. Add the anchovies and bay leaves to the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the anchovies disintegrate into the shallots. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the beef to the pan, cooking, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browning all over. Add the finely diced carrot and celery with a tablespoon of dried oregano and the chopped garlic and chopped sundried tomatoes. Sweating off these vegetables will add some moisture to the pan – keep cooking and stirring until the pan is nearly dry again.
Pour the wine into the beef mixtures, bring up to a simmer and add the passata and beef stock with the Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently with the lid off until the sauce has reduced to a thick texture (20-30 minutes), and continue to simmer with the lid on for as long as possible, checking occasionally and adding a little water if things seem to be drying out. Mine was on the hob for four hours – if you have time to leave yours even longer, feel free – the longer the better.