I have some many memories of perfect summer holidays in Italy. Regardless of the region we traveled to, there is always time to take time, time to eat well, time to celebrate the moments with family and friends. Even though this year is somewhat different, or actually different on so many levels with restrictions, precautions, social responsibilities and limited interactions, while we are having a staycation we will be still trying to recreate the Italian way – sharing food, dining al fresco and having a laugh with friends.
I love to go back to my dream holidays in Italy six summers ago. Staying in a Sicilian rustic cottage surrounded by lemon trees and bushes of grapes. Sitting by the pool, having a siesta, reading a crime story of Inspector Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri. Relaxing in hammocks and watching the lizards climb up the walls. Picking dark yellow, sunripe, juicy lemons and making a big jug of refreshing lemonade. Dining at the veranda and enjoying the sun set.
Whenever you cook on your holidays, pasta is a sure dish to serve. It is such a great crowd-pleaser and the Italians perfected it over centuries. You can read an amazing twisted history of pasta here. Pasta is simple, it needs only few ingredients, common utensils and some basic cooking skills. It seldom goes wrong but then a trick or two can take it to the next level. It is, in fact, the know-how and the little things that make it a signature dish.
I discovered the best home made bolognese recipe by trying to use up some barbecued meat leftovers. Hamburgers, sausages, kebabs, steaks, pork ribs, pork neck, chicken drumsticks – you name it, minced and slowly cooked with tomatoes. The sauce is summery, rich, juicy and meaty. The kids love it and there is never enough. It is so amazingly good that sometimes we purposefully get more on the grill to have all the selection of leftovers for the distinctive pasta sauce. Obviously, each time you end up with a slightly different mixture but you always get the incredible flavour and rich taste.
There is not too much preparation time. The most time consuming part is mincing. And it is really important to mince the meats. If you chop the meats, you get chunks. If you blend the meats, you get paste. While if you mince, all the flavours mingle together and form an ideal texture. We use our vintage cast iron mincer that we once found in the deepest corner of the cellar. We restored the rusty utensil that belonged to our grandparents and I could not be happier to use it for cooking family recipes.
I prefer to use passata as a tomato sauce base rather than tinned chopped tomatoes as it gives a better and more thick texture. The meat will take a lot of tomato liquid so you might combine a big jar of passata with a tin of tomatoes and even a splash of tomato puree for an more intense red shade. Cooking time is essential here. Leave it simmer for at least 2 hours as the longer you cook the ragu the better. And if you ever wonder how you pronounce some of the most common Italian words check here.
Spaghetti bolognese alla casa
100 g of spaghetti (or any other pasta of your choice) per person
750 g jar of passata or 500 g carton of passata plus a can of chopped tomatoes
3 tbl of tomato paste
1 tbl balsamic vinegar or a splash of red wine
500 g – 750 g selection of barbecued meat (minced)
3 tbs olive oil
2 onions (chopped)
1 small carrot (chopped)
2 springs of dry oregano
salt and pepper to taste
basil leaves, chili flakes and Parmesan to serve
Splash some olive oil in a large pot, add the chopped onion and gently fry for about 10 minutes until it gets shiny. Stir every now and then. Add carrot, cook for 3 minutes, then add all the mince meat and stir for another few minutes. Add the passata and/or chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Rinse the containers with a splash of water, swirl around to get any remaining tomato juices and add to the pot. Add balsamic vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir the sauce and gently bring to boil. Cover the pot with lid and simmer on the lowest heat for at least 2 hours. Keep checking on it and add some water if needed.
Once the sauce is ready, turn of the heat and cook the pasta. Measure 100 g of pasta of your choice per person. Spaghetti or less common bucatini works best for us. Boil a large pot of water. Once the water is boiling, add salt and then add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain on a sieve and mix in with the sauce.
Serve with homemade lemonade, Parmesan and pot of fresh basil on side and some bread to clean up the plate. Enjoy around the table with friends and possibly al fresco.