The stalwart student standby spaghetti bolognese has become a standard fixture on our weekday menu – simple ingredients, cheap and usually well-received by the ‘on me knees in front of the telly’ contingent. For Italian food purists spag bol occupies that ‘no-man’s land’ territory inhabited by other equally stateless variations of national dishes including chicken tikka massala and chilli con-carne – but no aplogies to the purists – this is a great dish.
So – here’s how we do it chez Prestopronto.
Preparation: Dice a large onion, a medium carrot and a stick of celery. Heat 2 – 3 Tbs of standard olive oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan or your pressure cooker if you like it ‘old school). Toss in a good handful of cubed pancetta or chopped bacon and let the fat render for a few minutes.
Drop in the vegetables and partially cover allowing them to sweat for 5 mins but not colour.
Take 500 gms of minced beef – low fat steak mince is good but if budgeting use what you can. Break down the mince into a loose mixture with the veg and allow to cook through (mince can be browned separately beforehand but the difference is only minimal and it’s one more pan to wash so we don’t bother).’ Get the kettle on to boil and set up a large heatproof jug – break a chicken stock cube into same and make up to a good litre with boiling water.
Take a good handful of dried porcini and drop into hot stock. Add 2 bay leaves and leave to infuse as the mushrooms soften.
Turn attention back to the pan and crumble in 2 dried chiles. If you have it – a good slug of red wine – into the pan – and let reduce for a few minutes to cook-off the alcohol.
Season well, then open a tin of chopped tomatoes – stir in to meat & veg mix. Add either (traditional) a tablespoon of tomato puree or (Prestopronto stylee) a good squirt from the tomato ketchup bottle (the sugar really helps the final flavour!)
Now add a good tablespoonful of dried oregano plus the stock, bay leaves and porcini. Grind in a fresh nutmeg.
Add a tablespoon of mushroom ketchup or Worcertershire Sauce.
Now bring to simmer – partially covered – and let it all come together and reduce to your preferred consistency. The secret is the reduction of the stock and tomatoes to intensify the flavours and produce an unctuous glossy pasta sauce.
Just before serving add a handful of fresh Basil leaves torn by hand (don’t chop as they bruise and blacken).
Serve – ‘prestopronto!’ – over freshly boiled spaghetti and grate over fresh Parmesan.
A good, chunky red works well (Barolo).