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Everyone has a favourite recipe for bolognaise. In 2010, the Italian Farmers’ Union denounced bolognaise as a ‘usurpation’ of Italian cuisine. We’re doing it all wrong, they said; it’s ‘counterfeit cuisine’ (they actually said that). Traditional ragu alla bolognese has no garlic, no herbs, very little tomato sauce and a good amount of milk. It’s not even meant to be served with spaghetti – it is to be served with fresh tagliatelle that’s 8mm wide, or precisely 1/12270 of the width of the Tower of Asinelli in Bologna.

With that in mind, I filed authenticity in the too hard basket – so here’s my counterfeit version complete with garlic, herbs and lots of tomatoes so that each individual strand of pasta is coated in sauce. And it’s good. So good that we’ve eaten it for three dinners in a row, and even snuck some for lunch in between. It’s the ultimate in easy-to-cook comfort foods that are perfect for when winter sets in. A default meal when I’m too lazy to think up something more exciting. And it’s pretty much foolproof – you can’t stuff it up if you tried – that’s not a challenge.

I’ve tried all the authentic variations – veal mince, pork mince, beef mince, all combinations of the three, and found that just beef has the best flavour. For a vegetarian version, substitute diced mushrooms for beef and add 100g grated parmesan to boost the flavour.

This makes a huge pot of sauce – it’s well worth making in a big batch as it’s great as leftovers and also freezes well. Use it as a base for lasagne or cottage pie. Though I’ve never actually gotten to the point of turning it into lasagne or cottage pie, as even with just the two of us, we’ve just can’t resist bolognaise’.

After much testing, I’ve found that the sauce is at optimal goodness the day after cooking.

makes approx 8 serves

Olive oil
1 kg       good-quality minced beef (or diced mushrooms for vegetarians)
1            large onion, diced
5            cloves garlic, finely diced
2            carrots, diced
4            celery stems, diced
1 tbsp    plain flour
1 tbsp    Worchestershire sauce
3            bay leaves
1 tsp      dried oregano
5 tbsp    tomato concentrate/tomato paste
1 tin (400g) tomato puree
1 tin (400g) diced tomatoes
½ bottle (approx 350ml) tomato passata
1 cup      water
½-1 tsp stock powder
½ tsp     sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Heat olive oil and cook mince in batches until it’s browned and properly cooked through. Don’t cheat and only half cook the beef as you’ll miss out on the flavour of the Maillard reaction. You can’t really overcook mince (don’t take that as a challenge).  Remove all the beef from the pan.
  2. Using the same pot (add more oil if necessary), cook the diced onions, carrots, celery and garlic until soft.
  3. Add beef to the vegetables in the pot and season generously with pepper. Add Worchestershire sauce (if using). Reduce heat to medium, stir to combine, then add the flour.
  4. Add bay leaves and oregano, then tomato paste. Cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add tomato puree, diced tomatoes, passata, water, stock powder and sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least an hour.
  6. Season to taste and serve with pasta of your choice, freshly cracked pepper and grated parmesan.

And if you simply can’t resist cutting tagliatelle into widths of 8mm, you’ll find the 1982 version of traditional ragu alla bolognese according the Accademia Italiana della Cucina here.

Tips for a top-notch bolognaise

  • Use an anodised or non-stick saucepan – the sauce will need to simmer for at least an hour, so using non-stick just means that it’s not going to burn because you forgot to watch it.
  • Mince beef is cheap, so don’t skimp on quality – a premium mince will have less fat and result in a less oily sauce.
  • Adding a tiny bit of sugar helps make the tomatoes sweeter and balances the acidity.
  • The flour just helps to thicken the sauce a bit.
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