Monday, 17 January 2011

On this day: Spaghetti Bolognese

Alice (age 14) cooked Spaghetti Bolognese for us all last week. It was a big success. There is something deeply satisfying about a hearty Spag. Bol. in the depths of winter.
It was on this day that Nigel cooked Spaghetti Bolognese. In fact, his entry for January 17 (‘A benchmark Bolognese’) in Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries (2005) is probably the best recipe I have come across for Spaghetti Bolognese. I have bookmarked it, so that I can use it as a checklist when I cook my own spaghetti Bolognese. Basically what Nigel does is melt butter, add pancetta, onion and garlic to fry. Then, carrot and celery, followed by mushroom and bay leaf. The beef mince is then added and browned. Tomatoes, red wine, stock, a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper follow. Cook for two hours. Pour in some milk for the last twenty minutes. Serve with pasta and grated parmesan. I don’t always have pancetta, but I improvise with whatever bacon is to hand. I feel the additional meat flavour is important in this dish.

Some rave about Heston Blumenthal, but I think he lets the science go to his head sometimes. Finding that something is a meat flavour-enhancer, for example, he will lob it into his meat sauces (fish sauce, mace, star anise – go for it). In fact, star anise has a very strong and particular flavour, and I thought it marred the Heston meat dish recipe I tried recently.
Elizabeth David (Italian Food, 1954) is at hand to remind us that the true name for Bolognese sauce is Ragù. It is a component of lasagne and can go with many other kinds of pasta (not just spaghetti). She makes it using butter, chicken livers and uncooked ham alongside the minced beef, with vegetables already mentioned, tomato puree, white wine, stock, nutmeg and seasoning. Claudia Roden (The Food of Italy, 1989) has a recipe similar to Nigel Slater’s, with double cream added toward the end for richness; she prefers tagliatelle with her Bolognese meat sauce. Marcella Hazan’s Italian recipe follows Elizabeth David, with nutmeg and white wine, but she only uses beef mince.

Alice, using her 'The Children's Step-by-Step CookBook (Angela Wilkes, 1994) cut up three rashers of streaky bacon to brown with the mince – to good effect. It was an excellent meal. We are hoping she will cook for us every week. I have just handed her the Wagamama cookbook!

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