really good bolognese

March 21, 2012

I’m going out on a limb to claim that what you see before you is not just really good, but in fact, the best homemade bolognese I’ve ever had. I have back-up in the form of a husband who told me in no uncertain words, “you need to make it clear how amazing this is”.

Spaghetti Bolognese was one of the first meals I learned to cook for myself. It was one of those recipes that my Mum packed me off to university with, knowing that despite being a poor student I’d probably always be able to afford some tinned tomatoes, minced* beef, and spaghetti.

Spag bol, as it’s affectionately known at home, is a standard in most people’s repertoire. It’s an easy, no fuss meal and it fills you up like nobody’s business. This one is not in any way difficult but it is a bit special.

In researching the most authentic and delicious recipes I came across another one of those great Felicity Cloake articles in the Guardian, this time: How to make perfect bolognese which covered all the pressing questions of our time like “red or white wine?”, “pancetta or bacon?”, and “chicken liver, really?!”. (No matter how many times I read that chicken liver is essential, I just don’t want it in my spag bol, thank you very much.)

The secret weapons in this bolognese? The combination of beef and pork mince is fantastic and the addition of thick-cut smoky bacon makes it a sweet-salty dream. Dry white wine adds a fresh, bright tang which is mellowed considerably by the addition of creamy milk. You can’t taste the milk in the end product (it’s simmered off before the wine is even added) but I think it’s inclusion is essential for that balance. Finally, freshly grated nutmeg brings a warm spice and all you need to finish the dish off is a grating of Parmesan.

Let me be clear: this is not a weeknight meal. It needs 3 or 4 hours in the oven for the meat to become wonderfully tender: an entirely different beast than the spag bol days of yore when I whisked up a spag bol on the stove top in 30 minutes. But it doesn’t require much attention and it’s so, so worth it. And that’s always the kicker isn’t it? Is it worth it? Unequivocally YES.

Pick a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when you have things to do around the house and let this simmer in the background whilst you enjoy a glass of wine and whatever else you have going on. Serve it for a luxurious supper and enjoy the tender, flavourful plate of goodness that comes from taking the time to make really good bolognese.

Really Good Bolognese


  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 70g/ 2.5oz thick smoked bacon, finely diced, or cubed pancetta
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 2 sticks celery, finely diced
  • 200g/ 7oz coarsely minced beef, at room temperature
  • 100g/ 3.5oz minced pork, at room temperature
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 150ml/ 5floz milk
  • Whole nutmeg, to grate
  • 150ml/ 5floz dry white wine
  • 400ml/ 14oz tin chopped tomatoes
  • Parmesan cheese, to serve


  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet or dutch oven over a gentle heat and then add the bacon. Once the bacon fat has started to melt, add the onion, and cook gently until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the carrot, and cook for 5 minutes before adding the celery and cooking for a further couple of minutes.
  2. Add the beef and pork to the pan and brown, stirring occasionally to break up any lumps. Season with salt and pepper, and let it cook for another 5 minutes.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 125C/ 250F. Pour in the milk, and grate a little fresh nutmeg over the top. Simmer gently until almost all the milk has evaporated, which should take about half an hour.
  4. Pour in the wine, tomatoes, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce, and stir well. Put the casserole into the oven, with the lid slightly askew, and cook for at least 3 hours (4 is even better) until the meat is very tender. Check on it occasionally, and top up with a little water if it seems too dry, although this probably won’t be necessary. Serve with pasta and grated Parmesan cheese.

*Minced meat is what we Brits call ground meat. It’s essentially the exact same thing, although I’ve noticed that in the States it tends to look like one big lump, sort of like sausage meat, whereas at home it appears like tiny little slivers of meat. Check out this photo to see what I mean. Okay, sorry for making you look at photos of raw meat…

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