Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Spaghetti Bolognese

This has been voted the favourite dinner in our house, everyone enjoys it!

It's one of those meals that most people can make, and there are many different versions. This one is easy to make, and using the passata rather than whole/crushed tomatoes makes a smoother than usual sauce. You can use two large tins of crushed tomatoes if you prefer.

The most important ingredient to get right is the meat. I use minced beef, and I make sure it's good quality. Don't get the churned-out stringy supermarket mince or the sauce won't work properly. My local butcher is part of a small supermarket so it packages up some of its meat supermarket-style, but it's good quality and also low-fat.

Some people I know, including my mother-in-law, who has an Italian background, use a veal/pork mince which tastes good and has a lighter flavour than the beef.

Fry onions in a little olive oil in a big, heavy-based pan until soft, then add some chopped garlic. Stir around to heat through, then push to one side.

Increase the heat, add some more oil, then put in the mince. Chop into it with a wooden spoon to separate it out and turn it to brown the whole lot.

When the mince is all browned, mix it in with the onion/garlic, and add the tomato paste, dried oregano, basil, a teaspoon of sugar, some salt and pepper.

I always use a generous amount of dried oregano and a smaller amount of basil. In summer I use fresh basil, but dried works well too if fresh isn't available.

Give it all a stir and warm it through.

Pour in the tomato passata and stir through. Half-fill each passata jar with water, give a shake to get all the passata and pour into the pot. Bring to the boil, then reduce to simmering point. The sauce will be quite watery, but it's going to simmer for a couple of hours so it will thicken as it cooks.

If you don't have a spare couple of hours, it can also be simmered for a much shorter amount of time, but don't add as much water.

If you have some red wine, add a glug of it to the sauce as it will make it a little richer, but I very rarely do this as I normally don't have any wine.

I have a splatter-proof lid to avoid mess, but otherwise just leave the whole thing uncovered and simmer gently for as long as you can.

When the sauce has reduced in volume and is looking richer and thicker, give it a taste and add some more sugar, salt or pepper if you think it needs it.

Serve with pasta - spaghetti, penne, rigatoni, whatever you like.

Stir some sauce through the drained pasta in its pot before dishing up, then add a blob to the top of each serve.

Add some grated cheese - our favourite is pecorino.

Serve with salad and crusty bread.

This makes enough sauce for 10 or more serves, so will normally be enough for two meals for most families. It tastes even better the next day, and also freezes very well.

- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 kg minced beef, good quality
- 300 g tomato paste (approx) - (called tomato puree in the UK) I either use a 250 g jar or a couple of 140 g tubs.
- Herbs: 2 or 3 heaped tablespoons dried oregano; 1 or 2 heaped of dried basil, or a generous amount of chopped fresh basil; fresh chopped parsley if you have some.
- salt, pepper, 1-2 tsp sugar
- 2 jars (around 700 g each) tomato passata

Monday, 3 August 2009


This is from Nigella Bites, and in the book it's topped with blackberry, apple and an oaty crumble. I decided to make the sponge base and top it with demerara sugar instead.

Kuchen is German for cake, so is a very general term. This cake is made with yeast and is half bread and half cake - not overly sweet, and slightly lemon and cinnamon-tasting.

In one bowl combine 350 g of the flour, the salt, sugar and yeast. In a jug combine milk, eggs, vanilla, zest and cinnamon.

Stir the liquid into the flour mixture, to make a medium-soft dough. Add more flour if it's too sticky.

Work in the soft butter and knead for several minutes until dough becomes smooth and springy. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour or so until doubled in size.

After it has risen (mine didn't rise much), punch the dough down and gradually stretch it over the base of a Swiss roll tin (20 x 30 cm).

I spread it out over the base of the pan, lifted up the dough and added a piece of baking paper to avoid any sticking. Leave to prove for 15 - 20 mins while oven is heating to 200 C.

Just before putting the dough in the oven, brush it with a mixture of egg, cream and cinnamon. Sprinkle demerara sugar over generously and put in oven. Cook for 15 mins, then turn oven down to 180 C and cook for a further 20 mins until slightly risen and golden.

Cooked and ready to cut with a bread knife. (I had to stop myself 'trying' pieces as I was slicing it up!)

Really good eaten with ice cream, and on its own - with a hot drink - and would be lovely topped with fruit and crumble, like in the original recipe.
At its best when fresh out of the oven, but still good when cool. I'll definitely be making this again.

350 - 400 g strong white flour
1/2 tsp salt
50 g caster sugar
3 g (heaped half-tablespoonful) instant yeast
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
125 ml milk, lukewarm
50 g butter, soft
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp cream
pinch of ground cinnamon
demarara sugar for topping

Saturday, 1 August 2009


This is a meal I've been making for a long time, it's a bit of a family favourite.

You need to make a really tasty sauce to start with - a tomato sauce, or bolognese, or a tomato and meat sauce. Whichever type it is, it needs to be reasonably liquidy as the pasta will absorb quite a lot of the water as it cooks.

The meat sauce I make starts with fried chopped onion and garlic (peeled, squashed and added to almost-cooked onion) and then add a couple of chops. Brown either side of the chops.

Add jar of passata and can of tomatoes, add 2/3 of the empty passata jar's worth of water. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and herbs. Simmer for as long as you can - 2 hours plus is ideal.

After an hour or so, remove chops from pan and take all meat off bones. Cut meat up into small pieces and return to the sauce. Continue to simmer the sauce. The longer you do this, the more tender the meat will be.

Towards the end of the sauce's cooking time, mix together ricotta, a beaten egg, salt, pepper and some chopped parsley - or rocket or baby spinach.

Fill the canelloni tubes with the ricotta mixture - I use a rounded dinner knife for this - it fills around 17 or 18 tubes. There's no need to cram the tubes tightly with ricotta, just as long as the filling goes right through the tubes, it doesn't matter if there are spaces.

Lay the filled pasta tubes in a large baking dish. Leave a bit of space between the tubes as they will swell as they cook.

Add the sauce to the baking dish, lift up each cannelloni tube to allow some of the sauce to go underneath. Cover the pasta and pour over a little extra water if the sauce seems a little thick.

Cover with foil and seal the edges. Cook at 180 C for 25 - 30 mins. Test the cannelloni with a knife to see if it's cooked through.

The cooked cannelloni ready to serve. Top with some cheese and eat with green salad and crusty bread.

1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
500 g chops - beef or veal
1 jar passata
1 small tin crushed tomatoes
dried oregano and basil - fresh if possible but dried is fine
1 tsp sugar
500 g ricotta
1 egg
salt, pepper, chopped fresh greens such as parsley, rocket, spinach
1 packet cannelloni tubes