Or, How I Tried to Make Heston Blumenthal’s Bolognese with a Few Shortcuts. Have you seen the recipe for his perfect spaghetti bolognese (featured on his book and show In Search of Perfection)? Spaghetti Bolognese is one of Britain’s favourite dishes and I’m sure every household has their own recipe for it. I also grew up eating it, my mother making vast quantities of the delicious meaty sauce at a time. However, the recipe I remember and still use involves frying off the ingredients in the same pot, chucking in wine and tomatoes and simmering it all down – easy peasy.

Kok Robin had a go at Blumenthal’s recipe last year and it was a massive three day undertaking. As I only had a day to spare (plus I wanted to make pasta and biscuits on the same day), I thought I’d take ideas from the original recipe and use them to improve the bolognese I usually make. I wanted to use the caramelised onions idea with the star anise. That sherry vinegar at the end looked good too. The list of unconventional ingredients added to the tomato base also seemed intriguing. I had to simplify the meats though (didn’t want to spend all day cooking oxtail) and so stuck with pancetta, pork and beef. Even with the shortcuts though, I spent a whole afternoon and evening on the sauce.

Pappardelle Bolognese

Upon first tasting my finished bolognese (tossed with freshly made pappardelle), a gentle sweetness from the caramelised onions was apparent and was countered well by the acidity from the sherry vinegar added at the very end. However, it didn’t blow my socks off. But after a day of maturing in the fridge (yay for leftovers!), the bolognese really came together. It was incredibly rich and meaty but still there was that hint of acidity that tempered it. A second day in the fridge improved things further. So in the end, it really did take all of three days to make a superb bolognese! Now all I need is a trip to Bologna to compare it to the original…

I’ve divided my modified recipe into six steps, each very doable. Something I’d do next time is also add some freshly grated nutmeg at Step 4. I’d also like to fry the ingredients in Part 5 into a thick, rich paste and perhaps use fresh tomatoes instead of passata.

Ragù alla Bolognese
adapted from Heston Blumenthal’s recipe.
serves 6-8.

Part 1
500g minced beef
250g minced pork
50g pancetta, chopped
30mL olive oil
200mL white wine

Get a big pot ready (I used a stockpot, you can also use a Dutch oven or casserole). For Part 1, heat the pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the meats and brown them. When they’re all cooked, add the white wine and simmer until reduced by at least half. Turn off the heat and set the pot aside.

Part 2
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1.5 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
30 mL olive oil

For Part 2, heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. When heated, add the chopped onion, carrot and celery add fry until they’re soft. Add the garlic and continue cooking for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the mixture to the meat in the big pot.

Part 3
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 star anise
20 mL olive oil

For Part 3, reheat that frying pan over medium-low heat and add the oil. Add the chopped onion and star anise and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the onion is caramelised and brown and sweet. Remove the star anise and add the cooked onion to the big pot.

Caramelised

Part 4
350mL whole milk
2 bay leaves

Add the milk and bay leaves from Part 4 to the big pot and stir to combine all the ingredients. Set the pot over medium heat and then reduce the heat when it’s bubbling. Leave to simmer, half-covered, for an hour.

Simmering the Bolognese

Part 5
3 pinches dried thyme
8 drops Tabasco
8 drops fish sauce
1.5 tsps Worcestershire sauce
1.5 tbsps ketchup
400 g tomato passata

After the hour is up, add all the ingredients from Part 5 to the big pot, stir well to combine, and then leave to simmer for an additional 3-4 hours (the longer the better). I’d originally wanted to cook down these ingredients together in the frying pan but sheer laziness prevented me from it – I wonder how much of a difference this would have made to the finished product. Anyway, try to reduce the mixture as it’s simmering (so no cover) – you want a very thick sauce.

Part 6
a couple tablespoons of butter
a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sherry vinegar

When the bolognese has simmered down to a consistency that you’re happy with (I like it super thick), add the olive oil and butter and stir through until melted and combined. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then give it a little splash of sherry vinegar. This really cuts the richness of the sauce and prevents it from being too cloying. Add a little at a time until you’re happy with the flavour, making sure to stir well after each addition.

Serve with spaghetti or fresh tagliatelle or pappardelle.