3 February 2012

Pasta hugs...

As we seem to be gripped by a cold snap right now, our family are all craving warming, comfort food...you know the sort of things I mean, foods and meals that will give you a great big warming hug on a freezing cold Winter's day...and what is more comforting than a big bowl of pasta bake?

My 2 children wolf this meal down whenever it is put in front of them!! So last night as a last minute supper, (they decided last minute that my idea of sausages and mash was not comforting enough!) I raided my fridge, freezer and cupboards for the ingredients to put it together...What they don't realise is that the sauce is chock full of hidden veggies...and so they are getting about 2 of their "5 a day" in one big comforting hit!

I always seem to have a couple of tubs of my bolognese sauce (I have to point out that yet again this is one of my tweaked recipes, that is more accurately a combination of several Bolognese recipes that I have used over the years) in the freezer at any one time, so a quick defrost in the microwave and off we go!

This tub would also feed 2 as a spaghetti bolognese dinner
My pasta bake changes occasionally, but there are a few key elements that never change...

  1. Cooked pasta – we prefer rigatoni
  2. My bolognese sauce - Recipe at the bottom of this post...
  3. Grated cheese...although the variety is often tweaked! This time I used grated mozzarella...
  4. A ball of mozzarella – torn into rough pieces.

I basically:

  • cook off the pasta until al dente.
  • Heat the sauce through.

  • Mix the pasta and sauce together.               
  • Mix in some torn mozarella.

  • Top with grated cheese.                 

Last night, I added ¼ of a pint of cheese sauce before topping with the grated cheese...

...so as my daughter said last night,
it was “almost like lasagne”...                             

There was also enough left over 
for hubby to take to work for his lunch...            
...so no waste at all.


My Slow Cooked, Hidden Veg, Bolognese Sauce

Serves: 4 adults & 2 children, or 2 adults & 2 children plus leftovers

Prep Time: 30 mins
Cooking time: 2 hours


500g extra lean mince (we've use beef, lamb, turkey or quorn)
1 large onion - finely diced
140g pancetta cubes (or finely chopped unsmoked bacon)
2 cloves of garlic - crushed or finely chopped
2 sticks of celery - finely diced
1 medium courgette - finely diced
2 carrots - finely diced
1 pepper (we prefer red or orange) - finely diced
100g mushrooms - finely diced
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp tomato puree
200ml beef stock (I use a stock cube)
200ml red wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Large saute pan with a lid


1. Cook pancetta (or bacon) until it is starting to crisp up.

2. Add the onions and garlic and stir. Cook this for about 5 minutes or until the onion is softened slightly.

3. Add the courgette, carrots, pepper and mushrooms. Stir and cook on a lowish heat for about 10 minutes. (I tend to put the lid on my pan whilst the veggies are softening)

4. Turn the heat up full and add the mince...making sure you break it up as you stir and brown it. Ensure it is well mixed into the vegetables. Cook on a high heat for about 5 more minutes without stirring (it is tempting to give it a stir, but don't, you want it to brown off and stick a little).

5. Pour in the wine, and scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the wine reduce by almost half, then pour in the stock, tomatoes, puree and sugar. Give it all a good stir, push the bay leaves under the mix and season to taste.

6. Bring the sauce to the boil, then lower the heat until it hardly bubbles at all and leave to simmer for about 2 hours. Just stir from time to time. If the sauce seems to be reducing too much, add a tiny bit of boiling water.

Serve with pasta and plenty of parmesan cheese...or use in lasagne or cannelloni recipes.

I like to make my sauce in the morning, and once it has simmered for 2 hours, I turn it off, put the lid on  and leave it to sit and develop it's flavours even more.

Enjoy xx

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