There are just some recipes that you know off by heart, that you can make almost blindfold, that are guaranteed family pleasers and that you can pull out at a moments notice. This recipe has all of that except the last part….
Our favourite family pasta sauce takes at least 4 hours to make. That’s not 4 hours stood over the stove, thank God, or it would never get made. It is about 20 minutes prepping beforehand and then puttering around the house listening to the gentle phut-phut-phut of a simmering pot and smelling … oh, gorgeousness of scent!… the meat, red wine and tomatoes melding slowly into a coherent whole.
And then, we eat it.
Food is a peculiar thing; sometimes the making and the eating are of a comparable length; a quick boil of pasta, a griddled chicken breast or salmon fillet takes about as long to make as the meal takes to eat. But other days all you cry out for is what is lovingly called ‘comfort food’. I’m guessing that comfort food changes from person to person and place to place, the Southern American Black Soul Food is completely different, say, than the noodle soups that a Chinese or Japanese person would pick. Location determines availability of resources and time, and what suits one culture won’t necessarily translate to another.
One definition of comfort food is; “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.” (Google search) but I disagree. I think comfort food is any food that gives you a full feeling, a warmth you were lacking before and an ability to face the outside world with renewed strength and determination. I think we could just as well call good comfort food ‘Hygge food’ and be done with it.
And my comfort food may not be yours. You may hate my favourite sticky rice pudding, I may hate your scouse stew, next door’s Tandoori may send the neighbour opposite retching and dreaming of a pizza…. it’s all individual. What has increasingly happened, and all the better for it, is that the comfort food of one nation becomes the comfort food of another. We live in a small world, and getting smaller. 60 years ago a plate of pasta would have been unheard of in the UK… a hundred years before that we didn’t have any knowledge of Chinese… Indian… the list goes on. My own favourite comfort food is scouse stew, brought to my fair City of Liverpool by the Nordic sailors who wanted a taste of home when they were far away from the fjords.
And that brings me nicely back to the recipe. This is a family favourite; a regular comfort food choice on cold, wet or just grey days when we want a meal full of flavour and warmth. It’s a weekend classic, when I have the time to make it, or a freezer standby, as long as I make double quantities and get to the pot before the sons, who could demolish the double portion as soon as the single! And so easy to make.
It’s based on a recipe for Ragu Bolognese from Delia Smith. I tweaked it to suit so much that I think I can now claim it as mine. There are no chicken livers, no fancy ingredients and everything is done as much by scent and touch as by a recipe, which I no longer need. That’s how often I make this one.
Ingredients; to make 2 portions for 5 people or 5 portions for 2!
1.5 kg beef mince
14 rashers smoked bacon
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Italian herbs approx 1-2 teaspoons dried
2 x tins chopped tomatoes
2 x tubes tomato puree
750cl bottle of red wine.
Pasta and Parmesan to serve.
- Pre-heat the oven to GM 1
- In a large, ovenproof pot, brown the beef, put to one side.
- Fry the bacon until pink and beginning to brown. Put to one side.
- Fry the onions softly until tender. Add the garlic and soften, but do not burn.
- Return the beef and the bacon to the pot. Stir well.
- Add the tomatoes and the tomato puree, stir very well. Add the herbs.
- Take the wine. Pour out 1 glass (approx 200cl) Add the rest of the bottle to the ragu and stir well. Drink the glass, unless you’re driving.
- Stir the pot well and bring to a gentle simmer. Place in the oven and leave there for 3 hrs. Check after 3 hrs and add more water if necessary.
- When the sauce is cooked, cool, separate out into portions and freeze for up to 6 months.
And there you go; one of our favourite meals. We serve it with broccoli and pasta cooked nicely al dente, but we also love it served as lasagne, and I know Delia in the original recipe used it to fill pancakes and make an oven baked dish that sounded lovely, with bechamel sauce and cheese on top.
Have a good rest-of-Tuesday, and hope you have a hyggely time!