They say the British National Dish is now Chicken Tikka Massala. If so, Spag Bol can’t be far behind, being another dish invented by and for Brits, probably over here, but based on the ragu sauce typically served by Italians with some pasta dishes. The Italians would serve such a sauce quite thin, coating the pasta with every mouthful. Brits apparently prefer a much thicker sauce, so the one we have created is uniquely our own.
Why do a blog & recipe about this ubiquitous dish, I hear you ask? Well, that is rather the point. Everyone seems to have their own version these days, some rather more bizarre than others. Here are a few to demonstrate the principle:
And so on…. There is broad consensus about most of the ingredients, though each have their little idiosyncrasies. That is rather the point about cooking – there is no such thing as a definitive recipe. Some claim degrees of authenticity, meaningless though that is. I make no such claims about my version, other than it being rich, tasty and rather pleasant. Mine includes no pork or bacon: you can change it how you want, but this one pleases me, for reasons given below!!
Ingredients (enough for generous portions for 6)
- 500g Coarse minced beef, very lean
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 stick of celery, diced
- 1 pepper (any colour you like), diced
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, ideally smoked garlic, salted, squeezed and chopped finely
- 2 cans of best quality chopped tomatoes (Napolina are very good)
- Good quality beef stock cube (optional) – if I have any fresh strong beef stock, I would add a little, but a good stock cube is OK, just remember to put in correspondingly less salt if you do!
- Oregano (fresh, chopped, or a teaspoon of dried)
- 1-2 Bay leaves
- Garlic puree – a squeeze
- Tom puree – a squeeze
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Fresh-milled black pepper & salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Fruity red wine, preferably Italian.
Take a big sauté pan and put on high heat, dry. Add beef and move to a lower temperature. Use a spatula to move the beef around until it is browned evenly. Pour off the fat into a suitable container (eg. used tin can.)
Add a little olive oil and add diced veg. Sautee for 1 minute, then add garlic & sauté gently for a further 2-3 mins. Add herbs, sugar, purees and stock, then season – plenty of fresh black pepper. Stir well, then add a good slug of wine. Bring to boil and allow to reduce by half. Add tomatoes, stir in well and bring back to the boil. Put the top on your pan and simmer at a low heat for 2-3 hours. An Aga slow oven is ideal for this, since you can leave it overnight. It works best if the dish is cooked a day in advance, cooled and reheated for serving.
Stir thoroughly, season and serve with top quality pasta, cooked al dente, more black pepper and grated parmigiano or grand padano cheese.