Spag Bol

I think it’s safe to say that I can walk into almost any man’s kitchen, open the pantry and find a half empty packet of dried pasta sitting skew if on the shelf, surrounded by commercial pasta sauce jars and dried parmesan cheese sachets, resembling a homeless man on a park bench with a missing shoe, encircled by a fort made of cardboard boxes, broken shopping bags and old crumpled newspapers. I then take a peek in the freezer and find an oversized package of freezer burnt vacuum sealed cow mince from previous months, forgotten about, but presumed to be still palatable if only microwave de-frosted and cooked for 15 minutes with a jar of tomato like splooge. 

We all have our lazy comfort foods that we fall back on at the evening. When we return to our castles, huts, longhouses or flats, victorious from a long day of conquering, shovelling, plundering or stocking shelves in a job you hate, taking the food order from a customer that won’t take their headphones out, or finding a product for an old lady that can’t remember the name of the item, or what the label looks like, but it starts with an “N” or a “P” but she really liked it when her sister Doris came to visit her house last Tuesday when she couldn’t get out of bed because of an ingrown toenail that now smells vaguely of Salami! 

But I digress…

There are times we don’t feel like cooking and just want something easy and quick so we can put up our feet and watch Game of Thrones. There is a healthier way, however, with a teensy bit of time and pre-preparation, it is possible to make a bulk batch of our favourite fare without the worry, Spaghetti Bolognese. 

I’m usually all down with jarred passata but today tomatoes were just $2/kg so I thought I’d make this baby from scratch. This is not a quick meal to prepare and usually I reserve this dish for when I have a day off as the longer the cooking time the better. Time to break out the slow cooker; after the initial preparation on the stove is done I transfer the contents to the crock pot and walk away.

INGREDIENTS:

1kg Minced Beef

Olive Oil (a good lug)

1lrg Onion

2med Carrots

1lrg Red Capsicum

4-5 Garlic Cloves (more if you prefer)

5-6 Button Mushrooms

1/2 Bottle of Dry White Wine or Red (nothing too fruity)

500ml Beef or Chicken Stock (I like 50/50)

2tbsp sugar

1tbsp Ground Pepper

1tbsp Hot Paprika

Fresh Sweet Basil 

Desired Pasta

Parmesan Cheese To Serve

METHOD:

First start by blanching the tomatoes in boiling water to remove the skins; fill a large pot with water and on high heat. While the water is heating to a boil, score a cross into the bottoms of the tomatoes with a paring knife, just enough to pierce the skin, but tor enough to puncture the tomatoes. A couple at a time, plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water, fully covering them until the skins begin to peel away from the cross. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and peel the skins off before they cool. To protect fingers you can hold them with tongs and scrape them away with a fork. Should come off easily. Set aside to cool and discard the boiling water.

Finely dice the onion and garlic and set aside, then finely dice the carrots, celery, capsicum and mushrooms.

Once cooled, use a paring knife to remove the woody core from the tomatoes and dice finely, they should mush up nicely. Scrape them into a large bowl, ensuring you keep as much of the juice from the tomatoes as possible.

On a medium heat, add a good lug of olive oil to a large stock pot and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent, then add the remaining vegetables and stir until the vegies are well sweated. The object of the game here is to release the juices from vegetables as they soften which will infuse into the sauce. 

Now add the tomatoes. The diced tomatoes will add plenty of liquid to the pot and any scorching in the pan will be lifted with a vigorous stir. Reduce the liquid by half and add the sugar, this will help the tomatoes to caramelise. Turn up the heat and continue to stir, scraping the bottom until the tomatoes begin to scorch. Turn the heat down a tittle and add a couple of dashed of wine. Repeat until the contents begin to turn a little darker, then top up with the remaining wine.

It’s now time to add the beef mince, some people brown the mince before adding the other ingredients, I personally never really saw the benefit. Break up the mince and mix until consistent and add the remaining spices and stock, stir and then shut off the heat as it’s time to transfer to the slow cooker and pop the lid on. You can finish this in the pot but it then takes constant monitoring to ensure it doesn’t burn and I’m all about shortcuts, without sacrificing quality.  Every hour or so give it a quick stir and replace the lid.

The trick with a truly great Bolognese sauce is time; the longer the better. If you have 12 hours, this is ideal and I have done this myself on one or two occasions, but I rarely go beyond 6, ensuring I get the ragout started by midday. If the liquid gets a little low you can add a little more wine or stock. 30 minutes before serving break up some fresh basil and mix through, leaving the lid off to reduce any excess liquid. 

Now it’s time to prepare the pasta of your choosing. When al dente (to the tooth or firm to the bite) drain the pasta but retain a little of the water in the pot. Add the desired amount of sauce to the pot, add a couple of teaspoons of butter and heat on high. Toss in pasta and stir till mixed through.

To serve, add a little extra sauce to top, a sprinkle of fresh parmesan cheese. A little crusty bread also goes down a treat.