My dear Kate over in England thought I had made a spelling error when we were chatting via Facebook and I wrote “spag bog” as I was cooking this dish this week. I thought the same when she wrote “spag bol”. Turns out we are both correct in our not-quite-right-ness. According to The Times (UK), it has been called both bog and bol in England since the 1970s when Spaghetti Bolognese arrived in that country. The Times opines that the Brits were afraid to attempt to spell or pronounce it, so they shortened it to something more manageable for the English-speaking tongue.
Spag bog by any name would be a great pasta sauce. Basically a ground beef (mince, if we are sticking to U.K. parlance) and tomato sauce, there are probably almost as many versions as there are folks who make it. Marcella Hazan, a fantastic cookbook writer and teacher of Italian cookery, does a classic version that involves milk and suggests 5-6 hours of simmering. I used to make her version, when I was young and childless and didn’t need any sleep, but these days? Well, as you’ll see, this recipe is pared down to basics.
Spag bog – Spag bol – Spaghetti Bolognese
2 Tsp good olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
(2 tsps shallots, peeled and chopped, optional)
Four cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, scraped and diced
1 celery stalk, trimmed and diced
1 lb ground beef
½ Cup light red wine
1 29 oz can tomatoes (peeled whole, crushed, diced, pureed – whatever you’ve got/prefer)
2 Tbs dried Italian herbs (your preferred combination: oregano, basil, thyme are the major ones. Double the quantity if using fresh)
1 bay leaf
Grated cheese (parmigiano reggiano or grana padano)
Cook spaghetti or other long pasta according to package directions (if you will be simmering for hours, then hold off on boiling the water and cooking the pasta until 20 minutes before mealtime).
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan on medium high until fragrant. Stir in onions and shallots, lower heat and cook five minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add carrot and cook a few minutes. Raise heat to medium high and add ground beef, breaking up and crumbling with a large fork or spoon, and cook until it is no longer pink. Stir in wine and allow to evaporate. Add tomatoes, herbs, bay leaf and salt (start with ½ tsp and adjust to taste) and simmer at a slow bubble for 15-20 minutes/or until the fat begins to separate from the tomato/for an hour (or more!) if you’ve got the time. Mix in with cooked pasta and serve with grated cheese.
Note: I use organic ground beef that is pretty reasonably priced ($5-$6 a lb) at Costco. I don’t eat that much meat and when I do, I like to have a good idea where it comes from, or at least, what went into it.
During the school year, I make loads of a more Latin-style seasoned ground beef at a time and freeze it in serving sizes, just adding the tomatoes and extra herbs later if I want an Italian-type taste, but since I don’t have to obsess about meal-planning at this time of year, it was really nice to make just one (or two) meals worth of this sauce with a more authentic seasoning. Here is the link to the Basic Seasoned Ground Beef recipe.