I think most people have a dish or a food that they go to in times of stress or anxiety.
As well as a good chicken stock soup, mine is a good Bolognese sauce.
When I am anxious it has been known for my freezer to fill with pots of Bolognese, it is a great quick dish for my son and his friends to come in and eat and safeguards them from eating fast food.
I make a Bolognese if I have some tomatoes that need eating, or some bits of celery or a carrot or indeed I have even been known to make it when I have a drop of wine left in a bottle, not good enough to drink but good enough to cook with.
I see little point in writing my recipe for Bolognese as I believe anyone who is reading this would already have one.
For me Bolognese is a process of cooking. I brown the meat in the pan first. I use a lot of pork – pancetta or smoked streaky bacon – as well as beef mince. Pork fat adds such a depth of flavour to any dish particularly if it is sealed and then cooked slowly.
I use a soffritto base in my Bolognese, I like to do this in a lot of what I cook. It has a base of onions, carrot and celery and garlic. Bay leaves, oregano – fresh if you have it and added at the end, if not then a good dried version is always good enough. If I have some then I will add fresh basil and /or parsley at the end of the cooking for added flavour and extra nutrition. I let the soffritto cook slowly with a lid on the pan, it helps keep the moisture in, they sweeten and soften. When they have ‘surrendered’, I add all the other ingredients.
A splash of wine, enough seasoning – always taste it, tomatoes can take a lot of seasoning. If I have them then I will also add sun dried tomatoes for added sweetness and flavour.
My process is to get it going methodically and then just leaving it to cook slowly. The method gives you time to think, to think about what you are doing, in the hope that anything else that may be a preoccupation may subside just for a short while. It is a process, perhaps even a therapy. When all the ingredients are back in the pot I suggest that it is left to cook on a low heat but not for hours as this can make the tomatoes taste acidic rather than sweet. It is the rich sweetness and the depth of flavour that you are seeking, so that it simply tastes balanced and delicious.
Recently and whilst staying with me, a dear friend experienced a significant loss, the kind that is not a surprise but is always a shock. Due to circumstances his fade from life took too long for him and was SO painful for those that loved him. So very sad for everyone but especially for those who are far too young to be left behind, who might struggle to understand, and some will never have a chance to gather the memories of the man he was, warts and all. I remember him as being just so HERE, SO clever, brilliant, SO vital and yes he was human and could be marginally unpredictable, perhaps obnoxious but so charming and for all of the right reasons.
Though one has to mention that we are, in part, nurtured by those that we choose to surround ourselves with. He was once married to this very dear and same friend, and what a team they were. I feel privileged to have known him and them. I still feel honoured to be friends with one of his daughters and her very special Mum.
As a result of the news of his sudden passing, I found myself cooking Bolognese late one Sunday evening whilst relatives were en route to gather together at their time of grief. In between sorting bedding and pillows, I was looking for tins of tomatoes and slicing onions.
Bolognese is a tradition, a simple and nourishing offering of home. Home cooked food is always comforting, always offers up memories, a good reason to gather people together to share their time, their stories, their celebrations and their grief.
I end with a sense of coincidence, it is a grey Sunday afternoon, the mood in this house is a little tired, maybe even a little flat, and my son has just asked me if there is any Bolognese in the freezer…