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Recipes: Brenda Costigan with Italian classics such as bolognese sauce





It is not without reason that dishes using minced meat feature in a list of internationally famous recipes -- chilli con carne, moussaka, American meatloaf and Italian bolognese sauce. Children love these kind of recipes, to say nothing of adults.

The process of mincing meat creates heat as well as a huge surface area where bacteria can so easily grow, so it is advisable to use mince on the day of purchase or, at the latest, the next day.

Some pre-packs of minced beef may contain many different bits of the animal and, while they are cheaper, the flavour may not be just as you want it. To be sure, I prefer to choose minced rib or round steak -- or a combination of both rib and round steak when buying mince.



Ragu is the true name for bolognese sauce, which originated in Bologna, Italy. Before the meat mincer was invented, the meat for this sauce was cut up into small chunks and the sauce contained very little tomato. This ragu can be used to make a lasagne or be served on spaghetti. I have evolved my recipe from a combination of sources and I am very happy with the flavour -- it's perfect for a special meal. It takes a little time to prepare and cook, so you could make double and freeze the extra. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

1 onion, chopped, about 175-225g (6-8oz)

2 garlic cloves, chopped

4-6 tablespoons olive oil

450g (1lb) minced beef (a combination of rib and round)

175g (6oz) mushrooms, chopped

15g (1/2 oz) butter

110g (4oz) streaky rashers, finely chopped

1 carrot, about 175g (6oz), finely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

350ml (12fl oz) beef stock

110ml (4fl oz) red wine (see note)

2 tablespoons tomato puree

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 small teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

2 bay leaves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2-3 thin strips of lemon peel

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)

4 tablespoons fresh cream, to serve

Spaghetti, to serve

A little freshly grated Parmesan, to serve


If you don't wish to use wine, use a little extra stock with a teaspoon of French mustard and a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce added.

Fry the chopped onion and the chopped garlic in one tablespoon of the olive oil until they become soft, then transfer them to a large, heavy-based saucepan. In the meantime, in a second pan, add a little of the olive oil and start frying the minced beef in three or four lots, until it is lightly browned. Transfer the meat to the large saucepan as it browns. After the onion and garlic, fry the chopped mushrooms in a little more of the olive oil, along with the butter, then transfer them to the saucepan when they are soft and golden. Finally, fry the finely chopped streaky rashers until they are golden and add to the large saucepan.

Add the finely chopped carrot, the finely chopped celery, the beef stock, the red wine, if you are using it, and the tomato puree to the large saucepan. Then add some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the sugar, the herbes de Provence, the bay leaves, the ground nutmeg, the ground cloves, the lemon peel and the Worcestershire sauce, if you are using it. Stir well to mix everything together. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a very gentle simmer, placing the lid on loosely. Cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally to check that the sauce is not drying out. This long, slow cooking allows time for the flavours to mellow together and for the carrots and celery to become tender. Finally, lift out the bay leaves and the lemon peel. Stir in the fresh cream. Serve with cooked spaghetti, or as you wish. Grate a little Parmesan over the top.


Many countries have a recipe for meatballs. The following one is Italian inspired. It's easy to make, and wonderfully flavoursome. Use your favourite sausages with a good flavour. Serve with the tomato sauce on some pasta or with mashed potatoes. Serves 5-6.

You will need:

1 onion, finely chopped, about 110-150g (4-5oz)

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

450g (1lb) minced beef (rib or round steak or half and half)

110g (4oz) good-quality pork sausages

1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1/4 - 1/2 oz freshly grated Parmesan

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 large egg, lightly beaten with a fork

50-75g (2-3oz) breadcrumbs (optional)

1-2 tablespoons water (if using breadcrumbs)

Pasta or mashed potato, to serve

Fry the finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic in one tablespoon of the olive oil until they are lightly golden.

Meanwhile, put the minced beef into a bowl. Remove the skins from the pork sausages and squeeze out the meat into the bowl containing the minced meat. Add the chopped fresh parsley, the freshly grated Parmesan, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, the ground nutmeg and the ground cloves. Then add the fried onion and garlic to the meat in the bowl. If you wish to prepare the meatballs in advance and cook them later, it is important that the fried onions and garlic are completely cold before you add them to the raw meat.

Then mix in the lightly beaten egg, the breadcrumbs and the water, if you are using them. Mix everything together thoroughly -- put your hands into the bowl and knead and squeeze the mixture to ensure an even distribution of the flavours.

Wet your hands and roll spoonfuls of the mixture into balls -- make them the size of golf balls. Space the meatballs out on a lightly oiled tin, and drizzle a little extra olive oil over them. Roast in the oven -- preheated to 210 C, 425 F, Gas 7 -- for about 20-30 minutes or until cooked through. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce below.

For the tomato sauce, you will need:

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

110ml (4fl oz) red wine (optional, or use about 75ml extra stock)

200ml (7fl oz) passata (or a 400g (14oz) tin of chopped tomatoes)

300ml beef stock

1 teaspoon caster sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon tomato relish (optional)

1-2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 teaspoon herbes de Provence

A few fresh basil leaves, to garnish

Fry the finely chopped onion and the chopped garlic in the olive oil until they are softened and lightly golden. Pour in the red wine, if you are using it, and cook until about a third of it has evaporated -- this gets rid of the alcohol. Add in the passata or the tin of chopped tomatoes, whichever you are using, the beef stock -- and the extra stock, if you're not using the red wine -- the caster sugar, the salt and freshly ground black pepper, the tomato relish, if you are using it, the chopped fresh parsley and the herbes de Provence, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about five minutes. Serve with the meatballs, scattering the fresh basil leaves over the top. You can accompany this dish with some pasta or mashed potato, whichever you prefer.


Inspired by Jamie Oliver's recipe in his cookbook 30-Minute Meals, this is a speedy beef hash.

You will need:

500g (18oz) good-quality minced beef

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 sprigs of thyme

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2-4 garlic cloves, chopped

2 carrots, very thinly sliced

3 sticks celery, thinly sliced

6 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Baked potatoes, to serve

Fry the minced beef in some of the olive oil in a large pan, breaking up the lumps of mince with a wooden spoon. Add a level teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Strip the leaves off the sprigs of thyme and add them to the meat. Stir the mixture frequently to ensure even cooking of the mince. Add the thinly sliced red onion to the pan along with the chopped garlic. Continue frying and stirring occasionally until the meat is browned and cooked through.

Although Jamie suggests adding the vegetables directly into the meat, I prefer to par-cook them in a microwave to soften them somewhat. To do that, put the very thinly sliced carrots and the thinly sliced celery into a bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of water, cover it with cling film and pierce a hole. Cook in the microwave on high for 2-5 minutes until the vegetables are just tender. Drain off the water. Add the vegetables to the pan once the meat is cooked. Add in the Worcestershire sauce, and stir well until the meat mixture is nicely glazed.

Garnish with the chopped fresh parsley and serve with baked potatoes.

Microwave Baked Potatoes

Wash some even-sized potatoes and trim off any bits that don't look so good. Pierce the skin a few times with a knife. Put them into a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a double layer of cling film and pierce it a few holes in it. Cook on a high setting, allowing about five minutes per potato or longer. Test with a fork.

Add a drizzle of oil to the potatoes, toss them, then place them on a baking tin. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and bake in the oven -- preheated to 210 C, 425 F, Gas 7 -- for about 10 minutes to crisp up. Cut a cross in each one and serve.


Sunday Indo Life Magazine