Saturday, 14 March 2015

Adventures In Bolognaise

Emboldened by the relative success of my attempts at making purple carrot soup and mushroom soup, I moved on to another challenge: pasta bolognaise.

So I'm a little late to the bandwagon.

Several meals of lamb bolognaise spaghetti at a nearby café sort of convinced me that hey, this is doable (not to mention the expense). But not with lamb. Not yet.

Thank goodness for the YSK meat mart nearby for this straight-up pork bolognaise I attempted one fine weekend.

First, season the mince. Salt (not a lot), pepper and mixed herbs by McCormick, and work it with the hands until they are all evenly distributed. These three seasonings should be okay for whatever four-legged animal you'd want, or even chicken.

Pork bolognaise cooking away, while the cooked pasta waits
impatiently; sorry, no pictures of the interim steps

Then, ball it up and smack it down into the bowl several times; this tip came from Mom, which I assume was primarily for meat balls, but it's quite satisfying to lay the smackdown on the mince anyway.

Heat some oil in a pan and drop the meat in. No fear of it clumping into a grotesque misshapen burger patty if you stir it often to break up any huge bits. If your meat is frozen (like mine), you might want to cook it just a wee bit longer, but not too long, because it's going to bubble along with the sauce.

Take it off the heat when thoroughly brown and plate it. Might be good also if you lined the plate with several paper towels to catch any fat that would otherwise pool at the bottom or be absorbed by the mince in the lower layers.

Now, the tomato-based sauce.

Toss in one yellow onion, chopped, and sauté until soft. Then add the aromatics: chopped garlic and shallots, and sauté for a few minutes. The kitchen should start smelling real good.

Then, in goes two chopped tomatoes. I didn't bother with skinning or removing the seeds, since they were small (should've bought two more at the market). Smoosh the tomatoes as they cook.

After a few minutes, in goes the stock or water, followed by two heaped tablespoons of Hunt's tomato paste. Stir and let it boil. When the sauce starts to bubble, dump the mince in, and stir. Let it boil a bit, then reduce to a simmer. Depending on how thick you want it, simmering time could take between 30 and 45 minutes. Stir the sauce from time to time.

With this, the number of pasta-serving places I tend to visit
went down by ... three quarters?

In the meantime, cook your pasta al dente. I made the mistake of making the pasta almost after I set the sauce to simmer, but since I was the one eating it...

When the sauce has reduced to your liking, take it off the heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Making it a habit of adding less salt helps. Heap your sauce over your pasta and serve.

It came out fine, because I didn't overdo the salt and continually tasted the sauce at almost every stage of its preparation. Some things to note, though:

  • Probably too much minced pork for one serving. Stomach's not the near-bottomless pit it used to be. Should've also put it on a plate with several layers of paper towels after browning to absorb the excess fat.
  • Used too much water, so the sauce took longer to simmer down. In the end, the bolognaise was wetter than usual and not very tomato-ey. And there's still a small bowl of leftover sauce in the kitchen.
  • Pasta was too soft because I cooked it too early. Should've waited until the sauce was ready first.

This whole dish, sauce and all, took me about an hour and 15 minutes to prepare. Crazy! But worth it, I guess.

Since then, I've made this dish a couple more times, including a version where I blended the cooked sauce ingredients in a blender before bringing it up to a simmer and tossing the mince in. This version cooked a bit faster and yielded a thicker sauce, but didn't taste quite right after I allowed a lot of the meat juice and fat from the mince to drain on paper towels.

The third bolognaise followed the first, albeit with the addition of a little butter and cheese that was shaved from a block of mature cheddar that flew out of London - thanks, Melody! Don't ever do this with the individually packed "cheddar slices" - it won't be the same.

So ... if any of you restaurant owners are wondering why you don't see me around these days - not that you often do - wonder no more.


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