Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Spaghetti Bolognese

We all have a memory or two about the food we ate in our childhood, not always good memories (I used to think the rubbery tubes poking out of school liver was macaroni!). A sudden smell or unexpected taste can set your heart racing and whisk you at speed to a place hidden deep within your memory. You are overwhelmed. You breathe in the smell again, taste the food again hoping to conjure up whatever it was that had just filled you. But it has gone. Sometimes you do remember and are able to capture that memory and keep it; a forgotten ice cream flavour, a sandwich cut a certain way, the art of forcing jelly between your teeth, dark brown sugar melting onto semolina (you only eat the bit with the sugar on!)...everyone has something. Spaghetti Bolognese is one of mine.
When my mother was a young bride she was given a Bolognese recipe by a friend's Italian mother. I guess in the sixties Bolognese very exotic and a young bride cooking it for her new husband may have been considered a little frivolous. But she cooked it, he loved it and so she carried on cooking it, she cooked it for me, for my brother M and then little brother G. We would all be overcome with excitement when, returning from school, discovered we were having Spaghetti Bolognese for dinner. At some point a ritual developed, I'm sure the result of sibling rivalry; we couldn't start eating until we had forked through the sauce and picked out all the mushrooms, counted them and a winner declared. These fungal prizes would then be displayed around the edges of our plates and eaten last of all. This meal was never eaten without Dried Parmesan in it's cardboard tube, the lid with it's plastic disc which could be twisted to deliver either a pathetic sprinkle or a truckload.
As with any popular recipe there are probably thousands of variations and nuances, each undoubtedly as good as the last. This is my favourite Bolognese Sauce recipe because of it's familiarity and the memories of the five of us sitting together and really enjoying the same meal time after time. It is very rich and tomatoey, if colours had a flavour this would definitely be red!

Serves Five
500g Minced Beef
1 Onion, finely chopped
142g Tin of Tomato Puree
1 litre Carton Tomato Juice
100g Button Mushrooms (or more!) wiped

  • Put the minced Beef into a saucepan and brown. Drain off any excess fat.
  • Add the onion and cook together for a few minutes.
  • Add puree, mix into the beef and onion.
  • Cover the meat with the Tomato Juice (you may feel that you don't need to use the whole carton).
  • Add the mushrooms. Season
  • Simmer for 2 1/2 - 3 hours
  • Adjust seasoning.


  1. I ate this.
    It wasn't as good as she's made it out to be.

  2. It was really tasty :)

  3. Ruby you are such a bad girl!

  4. Interesting that you should post this now. The BBC has been covering the story of Italians trying to 're-educate' the rest of the world as to the true recipe for Spag Bol.
    Radio 4 also talked about this, saying that spaghetti probably came into our version of the recipe because that was one of the only pastas available after the war, rather than tagliatelle as it should be.
    Still, they had Antonio Carluccio talking about his version of the recipe, and he wouldn't add milk, usually a stock instead whilst another contributor said that mince wouldn't normally be used at all!
    One thing i've learnt is that recipes in Italy tend to be local to a town, village or district! Ker-Razy!!
    And Ruttbag, you so is gettin' an asskickin'

  5. B, I remember this being one of the things you taught me to cook before I headed off to love the life of a student and having to fend for myself for the first time. I still use this recipe today, 8 years on! Simple and delicious!