Following our recent Side Dish episode, LJ expands on her history with bolognese, and shares her original take on it, should anyone wish to try it!…
I’ve always loved Italian food and pasta dishes were a staple dinner in my house growing up. Bolognese was no exception. However, it wasn’t until I was 14, and went to Italy on a family vacation that my love for bolognese really kicked up a gear. (I’m British, so this is not as fancy as it sounds. My 6-person family stayed in a tiny caravan in the hot sweaty Tuscan hills, and I became 80% aquatic from spending all of my time in the caravan park pool because no A/C!)
You see, in Tuscany, my dad and I decided one day we would go to an Italian cookery school and one of the dishes they showed us was bolognese. We ate it at the end of the lesson, and it was DEE-F*ing-LICIOUS and we came away from the class delirious with happiness. Or maybe, that was the Chianti they also served FOURTEEN YEAR OLD ME whilst eating what we had cooked. Who knows, the jury’s out. When we got home, the official version (as it had now become known in my house) entered swift rotation in our dinnertimes, and when I left home it was the one dish I was super confident in making to impress people because GuYs I lEArn3D iT Fr0m aN iTal1An!@!@!!
Over time, as my cooking skills developed, I tweaked it and added to it as I lovingly evolved it into my signature dish, the thing I felt I was best at making above all others, and that people could associate me with. It was the thing I cooked people if they came round to my place for the first time, or if I was trying to impress a date, or if I just wanted to feel like home! I also felt it was FAR superior to any other bolognese I had ever had. And then…. ANDY. MADE. A. BOLOGNESE.
If you’ve heard our latest ep, you’ll know what's coming but… my world has been shooketh. My mind has been blown. My life is now only Before Andy Made A Bolognese, and After - THERE IS NOTHING ELSE. Let me explain..
See, I clicked onto Andy’s video interested, but quietly confident that surely - if it’s BA’s BEST Bolognese - surely, SURELY they’d be doing everything that I was taught in Italy. I mean… I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I was TAUGHT BY AN ITALIAN!!
Reader, I could not have been more wrong. Andy did 90% of everything COMPLETELY DIFFERENTLY. There he was, deglazing with white wine (White wine?! why do you think the Chianti bottle was open!!!!), thickening with chicken stock (CHICKEN stock!!! But but… you’re cooking with BEEF!) and then, the moment of my existential crisis… milk.
MILK!!!!!! WTAF?! 🤯
This was not like any bolognese I had ever seen before. No, I scoffed, he’s got it ALL wrong, who in their right minds makes a bolognese like this?! Certainly not anyone who has ever been to Italy. He’s made a mistake. It’s not his fault, America is pretty far from Italy.
But then the seeds of doubt started to creep in. He is a professional chef. I am… not. Did this Italian guy of my memory ever show me any credentials? He did… not. He did blind me with his good looks, but that is all I remember. Was he even Italian?! Sadly, I realised I have no proof.
So I Googled. And guys - *bites lip* - Andy was right. All those changes? It turns out they actually are more authentic. And the milk? The most offensive ingredient of all? It’s because Bologna, the area where bolognese originates, is a big dairy producing region so of course they would add it to their namesake dish. OF COUSE THEY WOULD.
So all that remained was for me to make the damn thing. Bolognese is part of my personal brand guys! I can’t be going around not making it properly!! How embarrassing! So I did - and you can listen to find out how that went - but the terrible, terrible conclusion I came to after following Andy to the letter?
Guys, I think I prefer my OG recipe!! ANDY I’M SORRY!!!!
I’m NOT saying that Andy’s is bad, it is not. It is a perfectly fine plate of food, and I admit it is 100% more authentic than whatever I’ve been making. I concede that. But if someone now gave me the option of having Andy’s 100% Authentic BA’s Best Bolognese, and LJ’s Bolognese Pretender for dinner, I really think I’d choose mine every time. I’M SORRY!!! But the heart wants what it wants.
So if you also want to try mine, here’s the recipe. Just - someone suggest a new name ok? It’s been living under false pretences this whole time, and it’s really not its fault!
LJ’S DISH FORMERLY KNOWN AS BOLOGNESE (NEW NAME PENDING)
Olive oil (best quality you can get)
1 brown onion
AT LEAST 3 cloves of garlic (more if you like garlic.. I do)
500g beef mince
1 can of chopped tomatoes (best quality you can get)
A good squirt of tomato puree
A glug or so of red wine
1 beef stock cube
A bay leaf
A pinch of sugar
A dash of Worcester sauce
A squeeze of lemon juice
A handful of oregano (you can use a tsp of dried)
A handful of basil (you can use a tsp of dried, though I prefer the way fresh looks!)
500g your fave pasta (I like spaghetti with this, as is tradition - ALTHOUGH IS IT THOUGH, I don’t know anything anymore)
Salt & pepper
Lots of parmesan
Thinly slice your onion (not chop!) and cook in a large pan on a low heat with a glug of olive oil, stirring occasionally so it doesn’t catch, for at least 30 mins or until the onions are nicely caramelised.
Chop the garlic, raise the heat to medium and add this to the pan. Cook off for another few minutes.
Chop the pancetta, and add this and the beef mince to the pan. Season the mince and cook until the meat is almost cooked through and browning a little, breaking it up with your wooden spoon as you go.
Add a few splashes of red wine, and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure any crispy bits are lifted off, and let it reduce slightly, before adding the can of tomatoes.
Once you’ve added the tomatoes, fill the can they came in with water a third of the way up and chuck that in too, getting the last bits of tomato left in the can with it if you can. If the sauce is looking too dry, add a bit more wine and bring to a simmer - it should be looking quite liquidy at this stage, which is what we need to be able to cook the sauce down.
Now we add our fun extras that really make this something special. These are the things I’ve tweaked over the years, and often just go with what I have lying around but in an ideal world my formula is:
A BIG squeeze of tomato puree
Crumble 1 beef stock cube into the sauce
Add a bay leaf
Add a generous pinch of sugar
Throw in a dash or so of Worcester sauce
Then squeeze in half a lemon
If you’re using dried herbs, put these in now (if fresh, we’ll add later)
And lastly, salt and pepper!
Now I leave it cook for as long as I can. At minimum this would be as long as it takes to boil the pasta water and cook the pasta from this point - at least 20 minutes. But if you have the time the sauce really does benefit from as long as you can cook it for - 60-90 mins. If you are cooking it for a long time, turn the heat right down to its lowest setting. If you have a short time, you’ll need to have it up higher to cook off all the liquid.
When you are about 20 minutes away from wanting to eat, put a large pan of salted water on to boil - do NOT be shy with the salt - add as much as you dare. I also add a splash of olive oil to help my pasta not stick together.
When the water is boiling, add your pasta and cook according to the packet instructions (usually 8 mins is good for al dente).
Meanwhile, at this stage your sauce should be looking thick and sexy (just me?). If you are using fresh herbs, chop them up and add them in now.
And then its time for my favourite part: tasting and adjusting your flavours. I take a teaspoon and try a bit of the sauce to see if any of my fun extras need dialling up or down. Sometimes it needs more sugar because the sweetness of the tomatoes and onions isn’t being brought out enough. Sometimes it needs more of that kick from the Worcester sauce. And sometimes it just needs more brightness from lemon juice. Just keep adding bit by bit until you get something that you like the taste of. I feel like a real chef when I do this bit. Channel that!
When your pasta is ready, ladle out a scoop or so of pasta water into a bowl or cup or something, and then drain the pasta in the sink.
Then, add the pasta to the sauce, and add a *tiny* bit of the pasta water and toss the pasta in the sauce. If you need more pasta water, to help the sauce and pasta mix together, add it a little at a time.
Serve onto plates, and add a generous dusting of parmesan onto the top - I like a mountain of it. Or you could serve freshly grated parmesan on the table for people to help themselves.
Then, I like to scatter a few torn basil leaves over the top if I have any left as a garnish and a pop of colour but this is optional.
Et voilà! Bon Appétit!