Friday, October 5, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different ... : Budget bolognese, a la Toe Bin


I have recently moved into a two bedroom apartment with a friend. Out with the old and in with the new, as they say. Certain improvements were going to be made. Physical improvements. Personal improvements. Financial improvements. Thanks to now being the proud occupier of the largest room I have ever called my own (well at least until the lease is up) I am now also the proud owner of a bench press.

I try not to be as messy a drunk. I live my life with a certain degree of zen, especially when I am at home. And I cook lots of bolognese.

Ever since I moved away from home a little over three years ago, spaghetti bolognese has always been my signature dish. It has only been recently that I have unlocked the secrets of this dish. I would never claim that my version is perfect. Those of you that read my blog regularly (are there any of you out there?) will know my aversion to claims of perfection. However, it has been honed to a delicacy - that is, a financial delicacy as much as anything else.

This recipe started life, a little over three years ago, as an elaborate bag of ingredients that cost around twenty euro. Over the course of the last three years this has been whittled down to just a little over a tenner, with excess left over meaning that the next time you make it, you may only have to spent three euro or so. If you’re cooking for one you could get four portions out of it too. That’s two days of lunches and dinners, or four days of just dinners. Thrift and patience are the name of the game here. If you know where to buy the cheapest ingredients, you’re laughing.

Firstly, go into a butcher and order a half pound of mince. This should come to a little over two euro. You can either buy a couple of rashers here, or you can get pancetta cubes from your local supermarket. Staying on the cheap side of things, a couple of rashers - two or three - will only cost you a euro extra, if even. Remember, it is vital that you go to a butcher at this step if you want bang for your buck. It is an issue of quantity here. When you buy from a supermarket, you will always end up buying too much. Butchers weigh everything out for you, and everything remains cheap and cheerful. As well as that, the mince is probably of a much better quality anyway.

Next, make your way down to a no-frills food market. Moore Street in Dublin, where old women shout at you in that raspy old Dublin way that is almost lyrical, “Bananas, five for a pow-und.” Well, they used to say pound. Now they say euro. But for some reason pound rings more true for me, even though I could never have bought anything from Moore Street before the pound went out and the euro came in. Maybe it was something from my childhood, when I used to be brought to the ilac centre opening onto Moore street for a bag of jelly tots. Whatever the reason, pound sounds better.

Take that, Angela Merkel!

So, if you’re going to be thrifty with the vegetables, that’s the kind of place you want to buy them at. A bag of onions, a euro. A bag of carrots, a euro. Six to eight tomatoes, a euro. A bunch of celery, a euro. That’s four euro. All this veg will carry over to the next bolognese or stew you make except for the tomatoes. That’s three euro off. You can add garlic if you want, chili even, but they’re not essential. If you’re really skint, you can leave out the celery and the pork - it will still taste lovely in the end.

All you need now is some booze - the cheapest you can find - and your laughing. Don’t even worry too much whether you’re buying a white wine or a red wine. It doesn’t really matter! The wine will carry on to the next meal too, provided your not too much of a dipso. You will also need milk, but who doesn’t have that knockin’ around in the fridge at home?

You have your supplies, now you’re ready to make your bolognese. The key here is patience.

Put the pan on a high heat. Fry the rashers/pancetta till it starts going crispy. Turn the pan right down and throw in your finely (optional) chopped onions. Take pan off heat if they start cooking too quickly. Put pan back on when you think the onions are just gently simmering over that low heat.

Add garlic and chili, if you desire.

Leave simmering on a low heat - lowest of the low, unless that’s too low! The longer you leave it the better. It is all that lovely onion juice that will flavour the sauce, making it into something special. For how long? Half an hour? An hour? How long’s a piece of string, how long have you got, and how dedicated are you to adding a fraction more flavour to a bolognese? These are the complicated questions you have to ask yourself.

Next put in the mince. You can turn up the heat a bit if you like, but I’m not sure it matters all that much. You don’t want to burn the onions. As with all regular bolognese recipes, cook till juices run clear.

Next put it the finely chopped (optional) veg. The heat should be up a little higher than when cooking the onions. Cook them till they’re soft.

Chop your tomatoes - skin left on, neither de-cored nor deseeded. Chefs everywhere may be up in arms about this, but who cares? The seeds end up disappearing into the mix and the cores evaporate into mushy tomato juice. The skins end up mixed in with everything too.

Cook this off for a while. You may want to mash it all up in the pan to speed it along. Don’t put the heat up too high though - you want everything to fuse together nicely.

Put in a little water and watch as it evaporates and congeals everything together like a lovely bloody scab. Put in a little bit of wine and mix it through, and then a little bit of milk, mixing it through also. Cook for a while longer, until the liquid is mostly absorbed/evaporated into the ether. Add water every so often if you want to continue cooking on a really low heat, just to get its juices flowing. But it’s pretty much ready to serve once it’s all come together.

Add a pasta of your choice, and your laughing. Bolognese on a budget. Cheap, cheerful, and healthy.

Go home Gordon Ramsay!

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