Throwback Thursday: Pass the pasta Bolognese

Throwback Thursday: Pass the pasta Bolognese
Bolognese without all the bother. (Photo: Georgina Crouth)

Whether you like yours with spaghetti, tagliatelle or penne, Bolognese is a versatile sauce that can be prepared in bulk, frozen and portioned for those days when you’re all out of ideas.

It’s said hell is other people and some of us would agree with Sartre. 

I do, however, sometimes wonder if hell is not also other people’s food, wafting in the air of an open-plan office; thrown together without any passion; or cooked in cluelessness. 

Particularly Bolognese, which can be so dreadfully mistreated. 

The Italians know Bolognese as ragù alla Bolognese, used for lasagne or to dress tagliatelle or whatever pasta is best to mop up the meat-based sauce.

Slowly cooked, the base of the ragù is important: you can’t build a good sauce without getting the basics right. Starting with your sofrito, first sauté finely chopped onion, then add finely chopped celery, carrot and garlic. Remove that from the pot and brown a combination of beef (veal, if you have) and a small amount of minced pork. Then add your wine. Some prefer red wine; many prefer white wine. I don’t add milk.

Not all of us have the time to prepare stock from scratch, especially during the week, but whatever you prefer, try to use one that is good quality and not overly salty.

Don’t rush this recipe as it calls for patience — you could even put it in a slow cooker in the morning. 

My recipe for Bolognese is easy on the tomato and I like to add half a star anise, to bring out the meaty flavours — a tip once extracted from British chef Heston Blumenthal, while on a visit to South Africa to promote British Airways’ in-flight menu. 

I also add a little soy sauce, which hikes the umami flavour and the salt. 

It’s not traditional, purists be damned, as it works.

When there is time on a weekend — and this is my preferred method — I buy a mixture of chuck and other flavoursome cuts of beef from the butchery and hand-chop them for a proper ragù. It just tastes better but in a bind, good old mince will do.

Ragù alla Bolognese


Two onions, finely chopped

One large carrot, finely chopped

One stick celery, finely chopped

Six cloves of garlic, crushed

1.5kg beef mince

200g pork mince

1 tin chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp tomato purée

1 cup white wine

1 cup beef stock

½ star anise

2tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp dried or fresh oregano

handful of parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp soy sauce

Fresh extra-virgin olive oil


Sauté finely chopped onion in a little olive oil until translucent, then add finely chopped celery, carrot and garlic. Remove that from the pot and add your meats, browning them slightly. Add the rest of your ingredients and cook low and slow for at least three hours until the sauce is rich, not watery and reduced. Once you’re happy with the consistency, remove from the heat and allow to cool down slightly. Scoop excess fat from the meat sauce. Adjust seasoning, add more fresh garlic, a touch more herbs and a splash of EVOO. Serve with whatever darn pasta you prefer. DM

Tony Jackman is back next week.



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