Recipe: The secrets to a really good paleo bolognese
Who doesn’t love a bowl of good, hearty spag bol? It’s tasty, filling, cheap and simple to make. Minced meat, tomato sauce, spaghetti – I mean anyone should be able to cook a simple version of the meat based Bolognese sauce, yet there are a million and one recipes, each claiming to have the best combo of flavours and the most perfected method learnt from grandmothers and celebrity chefs or self-discovered in the kitchen. I’ve made hundreds of Bolognese sauces and in the last couple of years I’ve been perfecting my own version. Here are my secrets to a rich, hearty Bolognese sauce made with paleo intricacies in mind.
This is not really a secret but many people don’t know that the tastiest Bologenese sauce is made with a mix of beef or veal and pork mince. 50/50 ratio can taste a little too ‘porky’ for some people and I found that having less pork than beef works well for my tastebuds. If you’re a little more adventurous, you can try adding a little chopped chicken liver, which adds more complexity and depth. I’m leaving it out to please the mainstream palates. Many people add bacon but I really like some chopped pancetta, which is cured Italian meat similar to prosciutto. And finally, I used grass-fed beef and free-range pork and trust me when I say that you can taste the difference! Plus, you’ll be getting a healthier ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids.
Quick tip: I use a potato masher to break down the mince into very little pieces. I don’t like large chunks of mince stuck together and prefer a smoother consistency, where the meat is really broken down and incorporated into the sauce.
Traditional Bolognese sauce is served with spaghetti or other pasta which holds the sauce quite well. That means that having a slighty runny sauce is actually quite good, otherwise the dish might be a little dry. When it comes to paleo, the sauce is usually served over something like zucchini strips – I call it Zuchettini – or with shavings of Spaghetti squash. Because the vegetables, especially zucchini, are quite moist already, having a runny sauce will make the whole dish a little soupy. I prefer a very thick sauce that holds well and coats every fork-full of zucchini strips without slipping off back into the bowl. To get a rich, thick sauce I cook my sauce for a long time and I let most of the liquid evaporate until it’s thickened, slightly caramelised and sticky. Slow cooking and thickening also enhances all of the flavours, as does adding a dollop of butter right at the end.
Another reason I like a thick sauce is that I can use left-overs to make Shepherd’s Pie, Mexican taco filling or mix it with some sweet potato or grated zucchini for super-quick patties.
In addition to the classic onion, carrot, celery, wine and tomatoes ingredients, I like to add a whole bunch of flavour enhancers such as cinnamon and star anise to heighten the rich meat taste, port or dry cherry and nutmeg for depth, lots of garlic and winter herbs for pungency, and some chili for a kick. You can experiment and adjust the amounts depending on your own palate and pantry inventory.
Cook’s notes: I always make a large saucepan of the sauce to save smaller batches for freezing and as leftovers for the next couple of days.
For the sauce
- 700 grams grass-fed beef mince (go for normal fat to meat ratio, no need to get extra-lean)
- 300 grams free-range pork mince
- 4 tbsp virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 large brown onion, peeled and diced finely
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced
- 4-5 pancetta slices, finely diced
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 800 grams tomato passata or diced canned tomatoes (2 cans)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 30 ml port or dry sherry
- 2 tbsp GF Worcestershire sauce
- 2 1/2 tsp celtic sea salt or sea salt
- 2/3 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2/3 tsp red chili flakes
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1 packed tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp butter
- 4 medium green zucchinis
- 1 lemon, zest only
- A good pinch of sea or celtic salt
- 1 tbsp ghee or olive oil
- Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté onion, pancetta, carrots and celery on medium heat until golden and translucent. Remove to a bowl.
- Add mince to the saucepan with another tablespoon of olive oil. Break the mince into small pieces using a potato masher. Fry on high heat until the colour changes from red to desaturated brown. Stir frequently to make sure all bits are cooked evenly. This should take about 8-10 minutes.
- Keeping the heat high, add red wine, sautéed vegetables, garlic, pepper, paprika, star anise, cinnamon, thyme, bay leaves, salt, chili, nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce and port. Stir through and cook for 2-3 minutes before adding tomato passata and tomato paste. Bring to boil then turn the heat down to simmering temperature. Cook on low heat covered for two hours. Stir through every 20 minutes or so. After two hours, remove the lid and cook uncovered on low heat for another hour, stir occasionally. Finally, bring the heat up to medium-high, add a dollop of butter and let the sauce bubble away for 5 minutes to complete the thickening of the sauce.
- In the final 30 minutes of sauce cooking, prepare zucchetini. Cut zucchinis into thin slices going lengthways first and then cut those into fettuccine thick strips. Heat a frying pan with 1 tablespoon of ghee or olive oil to sizzling hot. Toss zucchini strips with lemon zest and sea salt and sauté on high heat for a minute. You want to warm and soften the zucchini strips quickly so they keep a slightly crunchy, ‘al dente’ texture. If you cook them for too long you’ll end up with soggy vegetables.
- Serve zucchini strips with Bolognese ragu sauce and some fresh thyme and lemon zest scattered on top. Grate some Parmesan or Pecorino if you eat dairy.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 3 hours
Number of servings: 5-6
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