The great Bolognese controversy

I suppose it is true to say I’m the cook in the Peel household, a situation that came about as a result of circumstances too complicated to go into now, save to say that I didn’t like ironing and Mrs P is ok with that.

It’s also accurate to record (though rather big headed) that my Bolognese sauce always gets rave reviews from all who have had the pleasure:  which is fortunate because I enjoy the preparation and as well as serving it au natural with spaghetti, it is the base for my lasagne too.   Slightly tweaked it works with moussaka.

The controversy surrounding this dish follows the revelation on a TV programme that the spaghetti Bolognese that we know and love, not only did NOT originate in the beautiful Italian town of Bologna but that no right-minded citizen of that place would dream of having a meat sauce with spaghetti.   And to top it all, a few days later, the grandmother of TV cookery, none other than Mary Berry, uses WHITE wine and CREAM in her Bolognese recipe.

Ok, I can get away with the white wine because Mrs Berry did say “which ever you have to hand” but Cream!  Can you imagine it.   I certainly can’t, indeed the thought had me reaching for the Gaviscon (other indigestion remedies are available).

Over the years I’ve tried  a lot of recipes in my search for the perfect  Bolognese, and they all tend to have the same ingredients in varying proportions but not one, no, not a single one have I ever seen contains cream.   But then I didn’t know that no self-respecting Bolognese would serve the dish either.   It seems the pasta you serve with any particular sauce depends on its coating ability.   Tagliatelle alla bolognese is good, spaghetti alla bolognese isn’t.

So for the foodies among you, here is the Peel Bolognese sauce recipe, (adapted over the years) and in deference to some of my younger relatives, with suggestions for vegans.

For those not familiar with Marsala,  this a sweet fortified wine produced in the region surrounding the Italian city of Marsala in Sicily.   I suspect it was originally added to counteract the sharp acidic flavour of the tomatoes. A bottle lasts quite a while but if you don’t have any, a tablespoon of sugar will do just as well.

The fish sauce is added to give a more robust flavour.

500 grams minced beef (Soya mince works well)
125 grams of chopped streaky bacon or pancetta (vegans skip this)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
1 or two tins of chopped tomatoes
1 or 2 tablespoons tomato puree
Garlic to taste – I use up to half a dozen cloves
Up to a bottle of red wine (I don’t use good stuff, that’s for drinking)
1 tablespoon of fish sauce (vegans may want to skip this)
A blast from the Worcester Sauce bottle (honest)
At least a tablespoon of dried oregano
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Secret ingredient:  1 tablespoon of Marsala

Note:  If you want to reduce the meat fat content you could brown the mince first and pour off the fat.

In a large pan, fry off the chopped bacon in some olive oil and then add and soften the onions.   Add the mince and garlic.  Once the mince is browned add the carrot, herbs and one tin of tomatoes (two if you want a stronger tomato flavour).   Add the fish sauce, a good glug of the red wine and about 200 ml of good stock (or a stock cube and water) and 1 – 2 tablespoons of tomato puree.   I add more if I use fresh tomatoes from the greenhouse.

Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and add the Marsala, season to taste and cook on a low heat for as long as you dare, adding more wine and or stock as needed.     I often leave mine bubbling away all afternoon.

The sauce can be used on the same day but I prefer to leave it in the refrigerator overnight.   It also freezes well.