Tag Archives: Italian

Slowdown

28 Oct

One of the few pleasures of unemployment is always having time. Time to read. Time to go for very long walks, dallying in front of shop windows, meandering down untrodden paths. And if you’re me, time to cook a Bolognese sauce that takes over four hours, start to finish.

Now, I can see some of you furrowing your brows, with a fairly distant memory poking up its head. Yes, I’ve already got a recipe for spag bol in this blog. A mighty fine one it is, too. But I was feeling the urge to make something long and labour-intensive, and I had a copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking languishing on my shelf.  And why not try the be-all and end-all recipe for something which is a standard in any cook’s repertoire?

And so I went off on a long walk, down the market, along the canal, through Victoria Park. I dawdled on the park’s paths, inhaling the autumn aromas of earth and smoke, watched the magpies and wood pigeons dig in the ground. When I got to south Hackney, I bought mince from the Ginger Pig, wine from Bottle Apostle, carrots and onion from the greengrocer, proper Italian tinned tomatoes from the posh deli.

When I got home, I put on some opera and set about my vegetables. Twenty minutes later (yes, I’m slow, but how quickly can you chop three sticks of celery and four carrots into small pieces?), they and the mince fried in the pan, then simmered with white wine, milk, and a little nutmeg . The tomatoes joined them shortly afterwards, and they all settled down for their three-hour simmer. I added water every 30 minutes to keep everything buoyant.  

And the result? It was good, and I imagine it’ll be even better after a day or two in the fridge. But was it worth all the effort? I’m not sure. It’s possible I’m so used to lashings of herbs and garlic in my food that I can’t appreciate something more subtle. But I also think that if I ever take three hours over pasta sauce again, I’ll use a cut of beef that benefits more from slower cooking, like shin.  The mince on its own doesn’t give enough depth – there’s a reason I put beef stock into my faster recipe.  I’d also cut the vegetables smaller than I did, as even after three hours of cooking they remained a little al dente.

But despite my mixed feelings, I did learn some new tricks for my own recipe. I preferred the white wine in the sauce over the red I’d used before, and simmering the meat and vegetables in milk first did a lot to balance the acidity from the tomatoes and wine.

So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Though these days, I have so much time that a mildly successful cooking project seems a valid way to spend it.

P.S. I just had the leftovers for lunch today, and it tasted so much better. So if you’re going to make this, I would suggest brewing it up a day or two ahead.

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Lazy Day Pasta

15 Mar

But there are days when I am some combination of deathly tired, morbidly lazy, or very hungry. Those are the times when I look in the refrigerator once every minute, sigh, and shut the door. When working and waiting for an hour for a meal has all the appeal of a brisk hike in the Sahara. For moments like this, I have spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Lazy day deliciousness.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca has 3 things going for it:

1. It goes from zero to table in 20 minutes flat. The only prep required is chopping garlic and anchovies, plus opening some containers.

2. Said containers keep very well in your fridge and cupboard. If you’ve done it right, you should be able to make this dish without leaving your house.

3. It is a flavour-packed, lip-smacking bowl of deliciousness.

I lived on puttanesca in my last year of undergrad, and it’s still one of my favourite dishes of all time. Unfortunately, I rarely make it now, blessed as I am with a partner who thinks that anchovies, olives, or any combination thereof are the devil’s work. It’s become a rather sneaky pleasure, eaten at home alone while watching dumb romantic comedies.

This recipe reflects my abiding love of all things salty and pickled, but you can adjust the quantities of all the sauce ingredients (except the tomatoes) to your taste if you’re not quite as keen. It makes enough sauce for two people; so if you’re dining à deux, just double the amount of pasta.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca


Makes one big, saucy bowlful

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 50g/2oz tin anchovies, drained and chopped
0.5 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 400g tin/14oz can chopped/diced tomatoes
10-12 Kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers
freshly ground pepper
100g/3.5oz dried whole wheat spaghetti

Warm the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, chili, and oregano in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Start stirring when the oil begins to sizzle. When the anchovies have mostly dissolved and the garlic is turning golden, add the tomatoes, olives, capers and pepper. Bring the sauce up to a simmer, then leave to bubble while you cook the pasta.

Bring a pot of salted water up to the boil, then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions – I find mine take about 10 minutes to reach the right texture. When it’s done, drain briefly, then add to the sauce.

Serve up in a bowl, without Parmesan (the anchovies provide all the umami this needs).