Sunday, 4 September 2011

Sea Shots and Spag Bol

There’s nothing quite like a really good spaghetti bolognaise on a Saturday night. My Mum used to make it for us when she and my Dad were going out for the evening. My Mum’s ‘Spag Bol’ is the best in the world and my little tummy (those were the days) would rumble in anticipation whilst it slowly simmered away in the pot, the deep aromas wafting through the house. And to top it off (after the parmesan) when my parents went out on a Saturday night, we were even allowed to eat our supper on our laps in front of the telly. My Mum’s spaghetti bolognaise on our laps in front of ‘Blind Date’ on a Saturday night was about as good as it could get.

Ah, those were the days. I’ve absolutely no idea what UK Saturday night telly is like anymore. I’d take a wild guess that good old Cilla has probably retired from match-making.

On the boat the crew tend to watch movies on lap-tops on our own bunks with ear phones plugged in if we have a Saturday night such as this; anchored off just outside Cogolin near St Tropez. It’s not quite the same and fairly anti-social but at least it prevents mindless ‘channel flicking’ and there’s no interruption from the ten o’clock news to boot.

And tonight there is a pot of bolognaise on the stove, the smell wafting through the boat. It’s not the same as my Mums but its still pretty good if I do say so myself. I’m pretty excited about it. And I’ve had plenty of time to get excited about it because it’s been sitting there behaving itself for the last two hours on the ‘Force ten’ on the smallest of simmering flames. If you have read any of my earlier blogs you’ll be very familiar with my penchant for long slow cooked Italian dishes and how I feel that their improvement from a good dish to a great dish can be the difference between an hour or 3.

And Bolognaise leads the pack. As it slowly reduces and intensifies in flavour it becomes a deep, deliciously moorish, special rich meal fit for kings. Or sailors, or for laps on a Saturday night in front of the telly but by heck you deserve the best so make your bolognaise in the afternoon and let it slowly work its magic, filling your kitchen with the best of homely smells and eat it 3 hours later when you can wait no longer. A large glass of Italian red and some very good parmesan, a little rocket salad and you’ll see what I mean.

This is the best recipe for bolognaise that I have ever tried. I’d love to hear your recipes and ideas too. I’m sure I remember once eating a rich and delicious bolognaise when I was younger that had capers in it…

For the best bolognaise for 6 you will need;

2 medium brown onions, finely chopped
4-8 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, grated (Sometimes I use butternut squash which is a superb alternative to carrot)
2 ripe, juicy tomatoes, chopped
Mushrooms, sliced
2 pork sausages (flavoured ones are great such as herb or sundried tomato)
3 slices of unsmoked streaky bacon, finely sliced
3 slices of prosciutto or parma ham, finely sliced
800g minced beef
400ml of red wine (a good one, deep, dark and full bodied)
300ml beef stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce


  • In a good heavy non-stick pan heat some sunflower oil. Add the onions and a tbsp of sugar (more than I normally suggest here but you’ll see why later once you’ve added the red wine). Sauté gently for 5 minutes or so until they start to soften and then add the carrot, celery, tomato and garlic and continue to sauté gently for a good ten minutes or until they have softened.

  • In a separate non-stick frying pan heat some sunflower oil till pretty hot and sauté the sausage meat, which you literally just squeeze out of its skin once you have sliced it lengthways down the middle with a sharp knife, breaking it up as it cooks with a wooden spatula. It is best to squeeze the sausagemeat out of the skin or you'll get stringy bits of skin in your bolognaise. Not great. Once it has cooked through add the Parma ham and bacon. Put aside once it has all cooked through and lightly browned. Then in the same pan, making sure it’s still good and hot add the minced beef. The aim here is not to stew it in its own juices but to sear it over a very high heat like you would a steak. It needs to be browned and dry and not gray and swimming in water.
Brown it, don't stew it!

  • Once the meat has all been browned add this to the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Add the tomato puree and oregano and keeping the heat high get a good sizzle going. Now’s the time to pour in the red wine all in one go.  It will bubble and reduce quickly. The smell will be awesome.

  • Once the red wine has reduced by about half you can add the beef stock. Bring this back to the boil and then turn the heat down to very, very low. Finally add the balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and lots of black pepper and prepare to wait patiently…
Thats what I mean by really small flame

  • Don’t panic. To keep you occupied now is the time to brown off some mushrooms to add to the bolognaise. Again, please don’t do this half heartedly. A very hot pan is needed to sauté the mushrooms till they are well browned and have absorbed all their own juices. This is how they will obtain their real intense ‘mushroomy’ flavour that will ultimately add to the meatiness of the bolognaise.

  • Now I’m sorry you really do have to be patient.
  • If it is starting to look a bit dry over the next few hours feel free to add more beef stock to loosen it a bit but remember, a good bolognaise is a thick, dense and dark meat ragu.

    I’m sure I don’t need to write about serving this with some good red wine, a nice salad and a handful of parmesan cheese. Do get messy and enjoy it; there’s no shame in wearing your napkin under your chin at all. Nobody likes a distraction whilst they’re enjoying their food.

    On that note it could well be time to put a large pan of water on to boil for my spaghetti. My chosen movie, all ready to go, stars Will Smith. Admittedly he’s a lot more attractive then Miss Cilla Black. I guess we all move on eventually.

    This could be a great Saturday night.

    Thanks for reading. Happy September and change of season. I’m pretty excited myself…