Picture the scene: It’s Monday evening and you’re trudging home after a long day at work, the weight of the world like a wet dufflecoat on your shoulders. It’s raining. The weekend went by in a flash of lightning and Monday, as the Cure once suggested, all but fell apart.
“What’s for dinner?” your stomach groans listlessly but in truth, such is that stifling nature of that coat, you can hardly think about food never mind tolerate a spell in the kitchen. All you want is take-away and the foetal position in front of mindless TV.
Then the light bulb goes off above your head and you remember…
The day before when you didn’t feel quite so lugubre and dismal you cooked up a big, gutsy bolognese so that you could avoid toiling for dinner on Monday evening. You were laying the foundations for a good Monday evening with something hearty to look forward to.
You are saved! The world is a brighter place! And best of all, your bolognese is one of the most sensational concoctions known to mankind.
As with other people, I’ve made a great many meat ragus over the years, some great, some not so great. Although, in all honesty, even the worst bolognese I’ve ever eaten had its merits.
This bolognese though, is full on. It’s the far side of hearty and bordering on sumptuous. It’s the sort of stuff which, if they were serving at a restaurant, you’d cross the town to just smell it being cooked.
It’s also the type of ragu that you have to be in the form for cooking because it’s a little time consuming, a little labour intensive and a tad tedious but come on, can you really put a price on a comfy Monday evening?
Deep and herby and rich and highly addictive, it’s the sort of non-authentic, modern bolognese they’re serving on Amalfi coast, calling it neo-manna and charging a premium price.
I will admit that hardly any Amalfi coast cook worth their salt would let a tomato seed near a bolognese but for me, any bitterness is overshadowed by the punch of the rest of the dish.
Whatever the case, on a wet Monday evening when the weight of the dufflecoat is threatening to crush your spirit, this is a glorious pick-me-up.
8 large ripe tomatoes, halved
2 or 3 garlic cloves, skin on but slightly crushed
1 tsp of sugar
salt and pepper
1 tsp of dried oregano
120g of smoked pancetta, diced
dash of olive oil
1 large white onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, topped and tailed and finely diced
1 large stick of celery, finely diced
500g of steak mince
lots of freshly ground black pepper
another 2 or 3 big cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
another tsp of oregano
small glass of red wine (about 120ml but you don’t have to be so precise)
1 beef stock cube or stock pot dissolved in 250ml of boiling water
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind
2 more large tomatoes, quartered
possibly more seasoning
lots of fresh basil, torn up
lots of grated parmesan
Start by arranging the halved 8 tomato cut side up in a roasting tin. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on the sugar, seasoning and oregano. Bake in a pre-heated oven (175C) for 45 minutes to one hour until starting to char on top.
Remove from the heat and scrap the entire contents of the tray out into a bowl, juices crusty bits and all. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and into the same bowl. Set all aside.
Whilst that’s happening add the pancetta to a large frying pan or cast iron casserole dish. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until the fat starts to run and then turn the heat up and fry until just beginning to crisp.
Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and add to the bowl of roasted tomatoes.
Add a small dash of olive oil to the pan and then sweat off the onions, carrots and celery for about ten minutes or until completely soft. Add the garlic, give it another minute or two and then scrap everything out and add to the pancetta and tomatoes.
Turn the heat up full blast and drop the steak mince into the pan. Season liberally with freshly ground black pepper and fry hard and fast until the meat is browned and popping – about two or three minutes.
Add the wine and stir fry for about a minute until the alcohol burns off. Then, reduce the heat and return the tomatoes and pancetta and the rest of the veg to the pan and stir to combine.
Also add in the chopped rosemary, second teaspoon of oregano, stock, bay leaf, parmesan rind and the two more tomatoes which you quartered.
Bring the whole shebang to a simmer and let it bubble gently, lid on for at least 45 minutes, stirring a time or t wo for the craic.
After 45 mins, if it’s still very wet, turn the heat up and bubble away some of the moisture.
When thick enough to your liking, have a taste and see what the craic is. It may take another pinch of sugar to balance things out or another pinch of salt – or both. But it should taste rich and decadent and beautiful.
Before serving tear up a small bunch of fresh basil and stir that through, keeping some aside for garnish.
When stirred through hot pasta, add on a hail storm of freshly grated parmesan.
And the world is a brighter place.
When mixing through hot pasta, use sparingly. It’s so powerful, you don’t need lots of the sauce to achieve a great flavour balance on the pasta. Then again, who am I kidding.
I’m usually eating it with a spoon by the end of the night.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
Receive quality journalism wherever you are, on any device. Keep up to date from the comfort of your own home with a digital subscription.
Any time | Any place | Anywhere
SUBSCRIBE TO CURRENT EDITION TODAYand get access to our archive editions dating back to 2007
(CLICK ON THE TITLE BELOW TO SUBSCRIBE)