One Christmas Eve many years ago my mother-in-law made a pasta sauce from a recipe given to her by an American friend. It involved the usual minced meat and tomatoes which you made into the sort of thing we often refer to as ‘bog sauce’ in our house. The difference was that once the sauce was made you plonked a joint of pork in the middle of it and then slow cooked everything until the pork was butter soft and delicious. The pork was then removed and served separately and the sauce was used to dress pasta.
I have never forgotten the moment I tasted that utterly delicious meal. Up until that point my only real encounter with ‘bolognaise’ was my mother’s version which involved boiled mince, a packet of Knorr minestrone soup mix and some powdered garlic puffed out of a plastic garlic bulb.
In recent years I’ve tried Heston’s version although not, I confess, the full three day effort which has more than a whiff of over-gilding imo. Judicious corner cutting is employed but it does result in something really very tasty.
However, lying in bed yesterday morning and musing over what to eat I remembered the MIL’s pasta sauce. Now, when she made it there were about 10 of us so a big lump of pork seemed a perfectly reasonable thing to cook for eating as and when over Christmas. Clearly this wasn’t going to be practical for two of us. After a bit of pondering I reckoned that belly pork would work and it did. Deeply savoury and quite delicious – and I much prefer the flavour to that you would get with bacon. I use some (possibly) unconventional ingredients but end result is lovely and I’m not claiming this is authentically Italian, it’s just authentically mine. I start this in a large pan and then chuck everything in the slow cooker, around 2 hours on high and 6 or so on low. You could also make this in a casserole or ovenproof pot in a low oven or even on the hob in a large pan. Just remove each step to a plate and then put it all back into the pot, pan or casserole and cook it long enough and gently enough so that the pork is lovely and soft and the sauce is thick.
There is one thing I do have to confess though, I’m not much of a pasta fan. But luckily this would be fantastic on a baked spud or with some steamed courgettes. Or with chips. Or mash. Or in a pie. Ooh… or in a toastie…
Don’t make it just for pasta.
Versatile Meat Sauce
500g beef mince
250g (2 good slices) belly pork, any rind removed, sliced into small chunks
1 large banana shallot
1 celery stick
2 star anise
100ml red wine
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
Freshly grated nutmeg – about a quarter
A slosh each of Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce
1 heaped tbs chargrilled pepper purée
1 heaped tsp garlic purée
Pinch each salt and sugar
Ground black pepper
Finely dice the carrot, shallot and celery and fry over a medium heat in a little oil until softened. Tip into the slow cooker.
Turn up the heat, add a little more oil and brown the pork really well on all sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the vegetables.
Brown half the mince and add to the pot. Then begin to brown the other half. Once this is looking about done pour in the wine and bubble furiously until almost gone. Add to the pot along with all the other ingredients.
If slow cooking leave on high for two hours then switch to low and cook for another 6 hours, stirring occasionally.
Otherwise follow the instructions given above.