Given the majority of us are still cooped up inside, it’s no surprise we’re getting busy in the kitchen once again, trying to perfect our cooking skills. But we’re done with sourdough and banana bread.
Cue the great spaghetti bolognese debate of November 2020. When Tim Shipman, political editor of the Sunday Times, shared his spaghetti bolognese ingredients on Twitter over the weekend, it provoked some strong reactions.
Shipman opts for a classic ragu, but with a few extras such as bacon, chorizo and mushrooms – and says he pushes the bol out on special occasions to experiment with sun-dried tomatoes or paprika for that slight extra kick.
“Oh, Tim, no,” responded one commenter. “Nope,” simply said another. “A good recipe (except the mushrooms),” allowed a third.
“That’s Spaghetti Shipman,” someone said. “It might as well be Spaghetti Antarctica for all its connection to Bologna.”
It did inspire people to share their own versions – one vegetarian uses Quorn mince alongside sofrito: the aromatic holy trinity of finely diced celery, carrot and onion. Others take a more freestyle approach. “Absolution from the Pope for trying to pass that off as spaghetti bol,” wrote one Twitter user of this pic.
Who knew such a stalwart pasta dish could be this divisive? To carrot or not to carrot? Red or white onion? Chunky or finely chopped? And what of the much maligned mushrooms?
To settle some of these key questions, we thought we’d better talk to some top pasta chefs to borrow their culinary know-how and ensure no Italians need roll in their graves ever again.
Elia Sebregondi, head chef and owner of London pasta restaurant, Officina 00, lists his “must-have ingredients” for spaghetti bolognese as: beef mince, pork mince, extra olive oil, carrot, celery, onion, tomato sauce, milk and red wine.
“Carrots are definitely needed because they give a sweet touch which balances out the ragu,” says Sebregondi. “Normally, white onions must be used, but if you use red onion then skip on the carrots as you will have sweetness from those. I definitely don’t use mushrooms. Onions must be finely chopped and the same with the carrot and celery, so they melt in the sauce and spread evenly.”
Each component and ingredient plays a crucial part in the whole, he says. From the type of tomato used to the correct herbage – bay leaves while cooking and fresh chopped parsley at the end – it’s not just a case of sticking things in and hoping for the best. Spaghetti bolognese is a slow and steady race.
“It must be cooked slowly and each step takes a long time,” says Sebregondi, who favours San Marzano tomatoes, which have more pulp and less water. “When you think it’s ready, add some milk and simmer again. This makes the sauce creamier – without it, it tends to split. And the milk will melt better together with the spaghetti – you heard it here first!”
For those who want to have a go at making the ultimate spaghetti bolognese at home, try Stefano Cilla’s recipe. He’s currently running the kitchen at Bancone, and definitely knows a thing or two about pasta.
For a next-level dish, he suggests shopping for high-quality and fattier meat. “It’s important to look for a slightly higher percentage of fat in meat, as it’ll result in a deeper, richer, and tastier dish.” And he’s with Sebregondi that the most important factor for show=stopping spaghetti bolognese is a long simmer time.
“It’s not a speedy dish as some might think,” he explains. “It’s a slow one and needs a lot of patience. Certainly no horrible mushrooms or big bits of onion!”
Here is Stefano Cilla’s definitive recipe.
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 5 mins | Cook time: 3 hr 30mins
1kg beef mince 15% Fat
250g pork mince 15% Fat
1 large onion
1 stick rosemary
100ml Extra virgin olive oil
200ml good red wine
Fresh or dried spaghetti (optional and suggested by chef Cilla homemade egg tagliatelle is best)
1. Cut small-medium size cubes of all the vegetables, in a deep pot put the extra virgin olive oil and the vegetables, a stick of rosemary, and start to cook them in medium heat for about 5 minutes.
2. Add all the meat, high heat, and start to cook it properly, add salt and pepper to season it.
3. As soon the meat is cooked remove the stick of rosemary, add the red wine and let the alcohol evaporate.
4. Add the tomato sauce and let it cook in low heat for at least three hours and 30 minutes. Every 10 or 15 minutes mix the sauce, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Be sure to season and add some extra salt and pepper.