Genius Recipes

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

By • March 5, 2014 • 55 Comments

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A ragù that works around your schedule -- and might even be better than Nonna's, thanks to a secret ingredient or four.

Genius Bolognese on Food52

It you're looking to make a correct bolognese or a definitive bolognese -- and you're looking to do so while avoiding scolding -- this is not the recipe for you.

There are times to make Bologna's saucy gift to the world -- a proper version, in all its delicate, slow-cooked glory. Let us appreciate it, and cook it sometimes -- but (please) let us also then play around with it, and make it new, ours, and, in our various ways, better.

Nigel Slater  The Kitchen Diaries

Nigel Slater's version in The Kitchen Diaries is humbly named: "A really good spaghetti bolognese" doesn't begin to cover it. But it's not correct. In just about every way, it does the opposite of Marcella Hazan's bolognese, by many accounts the Platonic ideal.

More: Tomato sauce with onion and butter, another Platonic ideal from Marcella Hazan.

Hazan speaks to her sauce quietly, over long stretches. Plain ingredients -- ground beef, onion, celery, carrot -- melt. She doesn't brown a thing; she doesn't raise the knob above medium. "No less than 3 hours is necessary, more is better," she says. And that's after you've already watched tides of milk, then white wine, then tomatoes ebb away at a very, very slow simmer.

Genius Bolognese on Food52

When you have a Sunday to loll near the stove, do this. If you want to really understand a classic bolognese, stand by, tasting here and there to see how the sauce mellows and sweetens and swells with time. To be fair, Hazan notes that you can stop at any point, then resume. But that doesn't get you to dinner in time for tonight.

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese  Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

In Slater's blasphemous, really good recipe, every step is brilliantly layered within the others, so that while your onions are softening, you're chopping carrots and celery; once they're in, it's onto the next.

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese  Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

The recipe is a model of kitchen efficiency and focus. If you're a compulsive mise-en-placer, that's okay (see ingredient shot above) -- you can still follow along.

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese  Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

Unlike in Hazan's standard of patience and virtue, heat gets cranked, and bits are left to color. On top of workaday soffrito, Slater pulls from the large-and-in-charge ingredient roster: there's pancetta, red wine, bay leaves. If you're feeling really hungry and feisty, there's even a ground lamb option, and it is outstanding. Perhaps most genius of all: there are portobello mushrooms.

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

Not only do the mushrooms plump up the earthy notes and umami, they also go all buttery and soft. Any textural subtlety you've lost in cooking your sauce a bit more aggressively is returned with the swollen swish of portobello. In about an hour and a half, you have an exceptionally supple, meaty ragù, one you'll consider eating without the interruption of pasta, or anything else on the plate.

Genius Bolognese on Food52

But about that pasta. Slater calls for spaghetti. Counterpoint, Hazan: "Meat sauce in Bologna is never served over spaghetti." Fresh tagliatelle, yes. Lasagne, classic. Fresh tortellini, good. Twirly dry shapes like rigatoni, conchiglie, fusilli, irreproachable. We used linguine. Not irreproachable. But really good.

"I made it during the week," Food52er JadeTree told me when she sent it my way, "since I had a rare hour of freedom to chop (and chop you will), but we all agreed that this is company food, hands down. Just because you want a bigger crowd to marvel over it."

Genius Bolognese on Food52

Nigel Slater's Really Good Spaghetti Bolognese

Adapted slightly from The Kitchen Diaries (Gotham Books, 2006)

Serves 4

For the bolognese:

4 tablespoons butter
3 ounces cubed pancetta
1 medium onion
2 fat cloves garlic
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
2 large, flat mushrooms such as portobello, about 4 ounces
2 bay leaves
1 pound ground beef or lamb 
1 cup crushed tomatoes or passata
1/4 cup red wine
3/4 cup stock
A nutmeg
3/4 cup half-and-half or cream 

To serve:

Spaghetti or tagliatelle for 4
Grated Parmesan 

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Food52er JadeTree for this one!

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (55)

Tags: genius, bolognese, pasta, nigel slater, Italian, comfort food, ragu, sauce, how-to & diy, everyday cooking, marcella hazan, winter

Comments (55)

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2 months ago Lynn

Where can I buy the handy little bowls and bottles shown in the picture of the ingredients above?

Miglore

2 months ago Kristen Miglore

Kristen is the Executive Editor of Food52

Some are vintage and the rest are assorted Weck jars, which we use for pretty much everything and sell in our online shop, Provisions! https://food52.com/provisions...

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2 months ago Lynn

Thanks so much for the prompt reply!

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4 months ago Fawntine

LOVE IT! I changed it up based on ingredients on hand, but used 1.5 beef and 1/5 italian sausage. didn't have pancetta so skipped it, but added some oregano and basil (can't do sauce without it!). This recipe is really to die for...I will never go back to my standby!

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4 months ago Sandie

This is so similar to the way I make my "gravy" although I've never used ground lamb or nutmeg-- I need to try that! But two ingredients I think should always be added in (for me, anyway) are about a 1/4 cup of fresh minced parsley and about a 1/2 cup of grated locatelli cheese. I like to use the cheese as my "salt" and then just add a bit more salt if needed. :)

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4 months ago Dawnielle

the recipe states to use "stock", what kind?

Stringio

4 months ago Robyn Lawhorne Owsley

I add cinnamon in place of the nutmeg and it makes a yummy, yummy flavor to the sauce.

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4 months ago OctoberGlory

Just had this for dinner tonight and "Wow" was it good. Followed the directions exactly using spaghetti pasta and ground lamb. Looking forward to sharing it with friends next time. This is a definite "keeper". I'll be searching out more recipes by Nigel Slater. Thanks.

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5 months ago Aimee

I don't care much for lamb or beef. Would this be good with ground turkey or chicken?

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5 months ago cookbookchick

I think it would be good with either of those meats. Just don't omit the mushrooms -- they really make this dish especially delicious. I made a chili the other day with ground turkey, a meat that I had never cooked before. Based on how that tasted, I think ground turkey (maybe even better than ground chicken) will work well in this bolognese recipe.

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5 months ago thirteenJ

Or lentils?

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5 months ago Midge

I made this with lamb for a dinner party and it was outstanding. Thank you for a total keeper.

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5 months ago EmilyC

I made this tonight and it was really good, just as its name promises. I'm not a big fan of portobello mushrooms but I loved them here. I was cooking for someone who can't have any alcohol, so I omitted the red wine and slightly increased the tomato and added red wine vinegar. That worked really well. The only thing I'd do differently next time is add a little less cream, since I found the full amount to dull the flavors slightly.

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5 months ago cookbookchick

I made this tonight with ground lamb exactly as written except for omitting the pancetta. Authentic or not, it was wonderful! I can always count on Nigel Slater to make something that is really good to eat.

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5 months ago Gioia

This is not a Bolognese sauce!!!!!

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

I agree it is a gross misnomer. Sadly, any spaghetti sauce with tomatoes and meat in it and a few other things often gets called bolognaise (or Bolognese) sauce these days. But it still looks like a tasty sauce.

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5 months ago I_Fortuna

I seriously understand how you feel. I feel the same about our Mexican cooking. I had to give up fighting it because it has been so "changed" in the U.S. Nowadays, anything with a tortilla is called Mexican. : ) It is not worth an international incident so I whince and bear it.

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5 months ago I_Fortuna

Shirataki noodles made from konjac yams. They also make them with tofu mixed with konjac yam which is suggested to be more like regular wheat pasta noodles.
Here is one, but they have others.
http://locarbu.com/index...
The ones with tofu + yam have about 20 calories per serving and the yam noodles have 0 carbs.
This sauce can also be used on top of tofu or cauliflower or other cooked veggies.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Thank you I_Fortuna. I never knew they made noodles out of tofu and yams. I don't have any idea where to get them but I will start by looking in Chinatown (I am in Toronto).

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5 months ago I_Fortuna

Hi Carol, I posted a link in my last post and they have all kinds of low carb food.
A health food store and possibly an Asian market may carry them. The tofu/yam combo seems to be the favorite.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Thanks I_Fortuna. I had read the nutritional analysis but hadn't noticed you can order them. I will order some now and then look for them in Chinatown when the weather warms up.

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5 months ago Julian Canzoneri

However good this does or does not taste, it bears no resemblance to classic Bolognese sauce, and will not taste like the real thing when you brown the meat and cook quickly with high heat. I know the cook wants to sell his name, cookbooks, etc. but must he do it at the expense of what Bolognese Sauce really is?

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5 months ago jim_everett

I use ground bison.

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5 months ago Barbara Moss

Why didn't i think of that? I also think I will buy noodle maker. Thanks.

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5 months ago Barbara Moss

I am trying to do low carb. Is there something that is not starchy i could put this over? it sounds great.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Yes, there is! Spaghetti squash. You just bake it up in the oven and shred it with a fork. A 170 gram serving of spaghetti squash has 10.95 grams of carbs as opposed to a 170 gram serving of spaghetti has 124 grams of carbs. I often use spaghetti squash when I want to pig out on spaghetti but don't want to overload on starchy pasta. I also saw recently on t.v. a machine that looks like a meat grinder that you can put whole zucchini in and it comes out in strings like spaghetti, altho I don't know where to get it.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Ok, Barb, I just found it. It is called a zucchini noodle maker and you can get it at www.digestivewellness.com

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5 months ago Jennifer Earl

spaghetti squash

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5 months ago tastysweet

I love the idea of this recipe. I have been making one of my favorites from realmomkitchen.com. It is the best slow cooker Bolognese sauce ever. And it is. Next time I plan on adding ground veal with the ground beef. One must try it. I added 1 lb. Hot sausage meat, pinch of red pepper flakes and fresh basil and some sugar. Did 7 hrs. on low and on1 hr. on warm. Will compare it to this one.
Thanks for sharing.

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5 months ago Gerle

I have a question regarding the nutmeg...you use a whole "nutmeg" in the recipe?

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5 months ago Kiralie

grate nutmeg fresh, not the powdered stuff in a packet or bottle.

Missycat

5 months ago Carol Higgins

Powdered nutmeg is fine. Just a sprinkle, as nutmeg is very strong.

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5 months ago gina graff

I peel off a long strip of lemon rind and cook it in my bolognese. It usually melts away. Or else I fish it out before serving, but it adds a subtle and marvelous perfume to the dish.

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4 months ago tastysweet

Gina, I love the idea of the lemon rind. Was wondering if using the zest would blend in a little easier. Will try it as soon as I have the time to make this.
I either have some time or don't have the ingredients on hand. But every now and then, time and ingredients do come together.

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5 months ago Meatballs&Milkshakes

I make a quick bolognese that's very similar to this, but the even bigger time saver for me is that I pulse very rough chopped sofrito ingredients in a food processor for a few seconds, rather than spend the time chopping into a fine dice. I've even used the food processor to mince up the pancetta, although it does tend to get a little pasty this way. But when it cooks down, you won't know the difference.