Spaghetti Bolognese

In case you don’t know (and if you really don’t, please go read the page entitled “Have a Bite“), I am a dummy in the kitchen. It is the one place in a home I feel most uncomfortable in and one which I cannot leave alone because of my intense love of food. It is quite a paradox. If you understand that about me, you should be preparing yourselves for a hilarious take on my ways (in most cases, copied straight out of television celebrity chef recipes, but with very different results) of preparing food I eat on a daily basis. Well, okay. Not daily.

Spaghetti Bolognese

This recipe is my mom’s actually. This was the first thing I learnt to cook days before venturing out on my own to Australia for my two year study. I was totally kitchen illiterate – as in I didn’t even know how to fry an egg. Seriously.

As far as eating this, I still do. Since I started working, the recipe’s been reduced to a lazy “buy the spaghetti sauce and dump it in with minced meat and browned onions”. Mom’s recipe had me using tomato soup from a can. A 10 step guide for serious kitchen dummies…

  1. Cook spaghetti in salted boiling water to the desired texture (How do you know if its cooked? Use a chopstick to pick a strand and have a chew. If the spaghetti doesn’t stick to your teeth when you bite, it’s pretty much ready. To those who keep time, sorry. I’m one for biting on uncooked pasta until it is cooked.)
  2. Pour the spaghetti out into a netted bowl thingy to strain the water away. Sprinkle cold water on the pasta to keep it from sticking together.
  3. Chop a large onion till each piece is about the size of peanuts… the nut, not the shell.
  4. Put oil in a pot to begin the sauce. There should be just enough to glisten the onions that you’ll dump in immediately when the oil gets hot, but not too much that onions are swimming in lard. (How do you know when the pot is hot? Well, hover a palm over the pot and feel lah)
  5. When onions start to look like they are edible (i.e. soft), dump in a can of tomato soup (I use Campbell. For the dummy’s dummy, the contents of the can, not the can). Add water if you think the sauce is too thick.
  6. Stir the pot with a wooden stirring utensil right to the bottom of the pot so that no onion is left at the bottom to burn, don’t use a steel utensil or you’d be scrapping metal into your sauce.
  7. Add minced meat (any kind you fancy), however much you like minced meat in your bolognese.
  8. Break up minced meat if they seem too clung together to you. Break them up really well unless you want to eat meat balls or if you’re okay with uneven distribution of meat and sauce later to your hungry lab rats.
  9. Add sugar and salt to taste (meaning bit by bit until it tastes right to you) and stir occasionally till the sauce boils. The boiling won’t look like water’s furious bubbling. It’ll resemble the bloop-blooping of magma.
  10. Serve spaghetti with sauce on top. Grate some cheese on top for show. (What cheese? Whichever you like lah. I sometimes put finely sliced cucumber for some vegetable intake).


  1. judithgr said

    I can’t tell if you are OK with being adrift in the kitchen or if you’ìd like to be good and just don’t know how.

    If you’d like to be better I can help at my blog, where I make Italian food simple. So let’s look at this recipe.

    Are you proposing to cook the pasta first? And not only let it get cold, but help it by dashing cold water on it? Stop that. People wait for pasta, pasta does not wait for people. It is served smoking hot and right off the cooker. It’s the LAST thing you cook.

    Your soffritto, or the fried vegetable part is missing a lot. Chop onion, carrot and celery fine and saute all of them in GOOD oil with a bit of salt until they smell like you’d take your clothes off for them.

    Then fry the mince until it loses its red color.

    Add some basil or oregano, not both, dried you use a little and add it now. Fresh you add 3 times as much and add it toward the end.

    Start a big pot of salted water for the pasta NOW. BIG pot.

    NO soup. A 400 g tin of tomatoes (or if you are making very little of this, half the tin) tossed in and cut up vaguely with your spoon.

    Simmer this while you cook the pasta and yes, do bite the pasta to see when it is done. There should be a microscopic line of white in the middle when it is al dente.

    As the pasta nears being al dente, add a handful of minced parsley to the sauce if you can. Then for a fine finish, you can also add a lump of butter. NO SUGAR. Taste for salt.

    Drain the pasta and throw it immediately into the sauce and toss it around. Serve smoking hot and offer grated cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino) to the champ who just made real Bolognese sauce!

    This may taste unusual if you are used to sweet pasta so if you need some getting used to it, try adding a little fortified wine, like sherry or marsala to the veg before adding the meat, letting it cook off. In the end, though, I think you’ll like this a lot. It’s quick and although not the documented sauce of Bologna, it’s a valid version cooked here in Italy and much better for you, too. There are hundreds of fast and easy real Italian ways with pasta and you can do all of them, really.

    If you prefer that the kitchen remain mysterious, ignore me.

  2. dummy said

    Great tips! Many thanks, Judith. That was just the way my chinese mom cooked bolognese and I ended up with that variation, so I apologise if I’ve just murdered Italy’s national dish. I’d like to be good but I don’t know how, you’re spot on about that, but I’m don’t see why I shouldn’t laugh at my cluelessness either.

    Back to the bolognese, I’ve been cooking the way I’ve been memorising directions when I drive – strictly the way it has been taught me all this time. So, this weekend, I shall have my computer screen on and copy your method for that mouthwatering possibility that bolognese can be. Thanks again.

  3. judithgr said

    My dear friend, you didn’t even get close to Italy’s national dish! The only mistake is in calling it after an Italian city which is famous for its food.

    Try my way, which is designed to make this pasta not more difficult than yours but more delicious and healthier. Then try some other easy pastas. Maybe leeks and pecorino, which is a reader favorite. You may end up being able to teach your mom some dishes!

    Meantime, I shall not expose how inaccurately I cook Chinese foods. BTW, I responded to your question on my blog, too.

    I take a lot of pleasure in teaching Italian cookery, so jump in and take advantage of my weakness! Over time you will also link to other cooks who also push the Italian envelope.

  4. judithgr said

    BTW, I think it is fine to poke fun at yourself and be funny. I also would like you to eat well while doing it.

  5. dummy said

    Oops! Looks like I booboo-ed on that bit too. Okay, shall refrain from talking about the national dishes of any country I have yet to visit. By the way, a friend from there once mentioned that the purist’s pizza should never have any sliced tomatoes on it. Another topic for another day perhaps.

    And on Chinese food, don’t even get me started. My grandmother faints at my ideas for ingredients. I have a suspicion that’s why I wasn’t really ‘taught’ to cook when I was young.

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