Tomato rich spaghetti bolognaise

‘Perfect’ spaghetti bolognaise.

Otherwise known as a mine field – and not just  because of regional politics in which a Bologna ragu is rarely served with spaghetti….

More so because like other comfort food classics from schnitzel to french toast, the way you like your meat, tomato and pasta has little to do with adult tastes – and everything to do with how your mother made it for you.

My Mum’s bolognaise was what sustained me from 12- 16. It got me through netball and rowing, flute exams and a curious period when I enjoyed making my own clothes. Hers is a dark collection of browned mince, onion, tomato passata and wine. It’s best eaten with lashings of parmesan while watching gentle films where the girl ends up with the boy in the end, after a terrible misunderstanding three quarters of the way through.

This one below hails from The Hungry One’s mum. When she was still with us she made it for him often. It fueled him through football and physics and two stripes on a black belt. Once in our early days of courting when he was still living at home she brought two enormous servings up on a tray to his room where he was trying to convert me to the merits of Lord of the Rings on DVD (I tried, I did, but I ended up giving myself a migraine during ‘Two Towers’. I just knew I’d be terrible if attacked by Orcs, I’d end up sheltering below ground, useless and shaking/baking until it was all over- the stress of it haunted me all night).

Rather than the dark mahogany of my mother’s ragu, Monique’s was plum red, bolstered with no fewer than three tablespoons of tomato paste with a umami richness that came from plopping the parmesan rind into the sauce while it cooks.  There was softened onion and a sturdy proportion of softened carrots for extra bulk and sweetness.

This is the sort of bolognaise you want to cook in bulk, either to feed a strapping six foot two son or a crowd. It also freezes well, so can be pulled out for emergency mince-on-toasted-cheese suppers or curiously rich shepherd’s pies (perhaps with magical white bean puree for a topping)

The Hungry One may not have his Mum with him these days. She’s not around to see what a successful, kind and generous man he turned into. There are some days when that grates at my heart more than others. It’s on  those sort of days that I most feel the urge to make him this.

Tomato rich bolognaise 

( When cooking this with pasta I use 100 grams of dried pasta per person as a guide. Nb,  The Hungry One often eats more. This bolognaise  goes very well with spaghetti, but our current favourite is fat penne- it provides lots more crevices for the sauce to bury into).


Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 rashes of bacon, cut into small dice
700 grams of good quality beef mince (though you could easily do a combination of pork/veal/beef for extra flavour)
2 large carrots
2 brown onions
3 garlic cloves
2 400 gram tins of tomatoes
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves
1 parmesan rind
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 cups of red wine (feel free to drink the rest while you cook and eat)

Here’s how we roll

1) Peel the carrots and the onion and cut  into small dice.

2) Sautee the onions, carrot and garlic in the olive oil until soft.

3) Turn the heat to high and brown the mince and bacon in batches.

4) Add the red wine and scrape at the bottom of the pan to pull up any caramelised bits (these will help add flavour). Add the tomatoes and the oregano leaves.

5) Add the parmesan rind and two teaspoons of sugar simmer with a lid half on over a low heat for two to four hours.

6) Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pluck out the parmesan rind and serve with al dente pasta, extra oregano leaves, shaved parmesan  – and a glass of red wine.
What’s your idea of a perfect bolognaise? Is it how your mum made it? Suggestions gratefully received….
  1. Comfort food heaven. Have never thought to use the Parmesan rind, have done it with minestrone but never good old Bol. My secret ingredient is fish sauce, but it adds the umami love that the Parmesan does so both would probably be umami overload, if there is such thing!

  2. Bolognese is a complete minefield! The argument I hear most often is red or white wine, and whether or not to include milk. I make a recipe my boyfriend (not Italian) invented with lots of herbs, passata and red wine which is reduced right down and extremely thick and rich, but I do love the creamy lightness of using white wine and milk. Your version looks lovely and I agree on pasta – better to serve with shapes that can soak up all that lovely sauce!

  3. haha! So I guess you still haven’t converted to Lord of the Rings?! Seriously though, your mum’s recipe rocks. Words like comfort and ‘freakin so good’ come to mind. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Beautiful post, I am sure the Hungry One got even more teary than I did. And yes, bolognese is a mine field. Cooking times, ingredients, towns and especially mamme and nonne contribute to making it just that. Every family has the best and the right recipe for ragù alla bolognese.

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