I’m feeling brave … after all, a bolognese sauce is one of those things that everyone makes, everyone knows how to make and everyone has an opinion on how it should be made.
In Bologna, the home of the Bolognese sauce, it is called a ragù and the ‘Bolognese’ comes from the sauce’s French name, sauce bolognaise. Strictly speaking the sauce should contain just a dash of tomato paste … so please don’t complain that what follows is not a traditional Bolognese sauce!
I had a good read through quite a few recipe books to come up with my final approach. I knew I had to make do with what was already in the house – so recipes calling for chicken livers, pork and various other exotica will have to wait for another time. In the end, I most closely followed the recipe found in Ainsley Harriott’s Ainsley’s Friends and Family Cookbook (Amazon US, Amazon UK). This is a great book as it’s very practical. Most of the recipes are simple, or quick, or make use of store cupboard ingredients (or all three) which makes it a great resource. However you happen to feel about Ainsley’s television persona, this book is certainly on the money.
My personal opinion is that, in order to make a good Bolognese sauce you need to make sure you cook it slowly and for a long time, so I was happy to see that Ainsley wants you to simmer your sauce for at least 2 hours, and preferably up to 4. I really think that if you do give your sauce a good, long, slow cook you cannot go far wrong.
Here is my interpretation of Ainsley Harriott’s Bolognese sauce.
Begin by heating some olive oil in a large pan. Chop (or dice) two rashers of bacon and add this to the oil. Fry until starting to crisp, and then add 1 finely diced onion, a diced carrot, garlic to taste and 1 anchovy, finely chopped. This is a pasta sauce tip I picked up from watching Rick Stein: an anchovy in a pasta sauce adds depth of flavour without fishiness. Ainsley’s recipe has you add anchovy essence at the end but I had to make do with the real thing! Add a scant teaspoon of dried thyme (a few sprigs of fresh thyme, if you have it) and a bay leaf and leave this to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The vegetables should start to soften and take on a little colour.
At this point, it’s probably worthwhile winding the heat up a little because next you add 500g beef mince. Mix this into the vegetables well, breaking up clumps and sauteeing it so that it’s well browned (you don’t want an anaemic, grey sauce, do you?). Add 2 tbsp of tomato paste and stir well.
Now add 300mL of red wine (if the pan needs deglazing use a little of this prior to tipping in the whole lot) and a 400g tin of tomatoes. Finish with a grate of nutmeg. Give it all a good mix, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 2-4 hours.
Most of the time is taken up with the simmering so while you do have to be in the house you can hardly call this recipe labour intensive. And best of all, serving is not a time sensitive process!
When you’re ready to serve, correct the seasoning and off you go!
Serve with your favourite pasta (and discover it’s tricky to take a photo that makes it look appetizing!), but make sure to save some leftovers for home made schnitzels …