In Switzerland, the Pasta Plausch is a favourite menu item for many. In my last job, Thursdays in the canteen was (and still is) known simply as Pasta Plausch, a day where the lunchtime menu would feature a large pasta buffet to the delight of the employees. On offer were usually a few different types of pasta with a selection of sauces including bolognese, carbonara, Napolitana and pesto.
I, too, was always excited when Thursdays rolled around, and not just because the weekend was then only two days away. Swiss canteen fare is typically quite good but it can also be quite rich and heavy. A typical menu would feature the likes of roast beef with potato gratin and a mustard sauce, or marinated chicken breasts served with gnocchi and peas, or delicious pan-fried pork medallions served with a Cognac cream sauce and Spätzli. So a simple pasta dish was always a welcome option, and which somehow had a knack for bringing out the child in many grown men who would enthusiastically march towards the pasta buffet every Thursday. Pasta Plausch was so popular with some of my male colleagues that some even took care not to wear a white shirt on Thursdays, lest they splatter their Hugo Boss with an irreversible ragu sauce.
Growing up, my mother never really cooked Italian food. I think our closest encounter with Italian cuisine was Pizza Hut, and I loved it! When she did attempt any Italian food, it was likely to have been tainted with some coriander (cilantro) and eaten with chopsticks.
This might go some length in explaining why, for many years, I failed miserably in attempting to recreate a decent bolognese sauce at home. No matter how many different recipes I tried, how expensive the red wine or for how long I simmered the sauce, a bottle of ready-made bolognese sauce from the supermarket was always going to taste better. And I accepted this defeat on the grounds that, well, I wasn’t Italian; that certain dishes were out of my realm because of my gene pool.
But this particular recipe for bolognese sauce caught my eye because it contains neither red wine, stock nor bacon, ingredients which are so commonly found in a traditional ragu. I attempted this recipe out of curiosity and I have never looked back since. For me, this is the bolognese sauce which I have been trying to recreate at home for so many years and I happen to think the defining ingredient is freshly-ground beef.
Those who know me will know that I have a thing about minced meat. I find it spooky, especially the ones sold in plastic tubs in the supermarket. What exactly is minced meat? From which part (or parts) of the animal (or animals??) does it come from? Whenever a recipe calls for minced meat, I always go out of my way to make my own, and I have been doing this for as long as I can remember. In fact, my mother never bought minced meat either. I have vivid recollections of her mincing her own meat with a menacing Chinese meat cleaver in both hands, rapidly hacking away with such aggression that you wouldn’t want to disturb her on such occasions.
I used to mince meat in my food processor; it does a decent job but the meat is likely to be very finely chopped in this method, almost paste-like if you process it for too long. The better approach is to use a proper meat grinder, and KitchenAid owners will rejoice in knowing that the meat grinder attachment does a fabulous job in grinding meat in coarse or fine textures. The simplest approach, of course, is to ask your butcher to grind the meat for you.
And the reason why I think freshly-ground mince tastes best is because you can choose the cut of meat yourself; selecting a good-quality cut of meat means that you can control both the flavour (some cuts of meat taste better than others) and know exactly what it is that you are eating. For this recipe, I like to use a cut of beef which the French and Swiss call entrecôte, which is termed as rib-eye or sirloin in other parts of the world. It is a flavourful cut of beef with a good amount of marbling, making it a good choice for a bolognese sauce which needs a robust, meaty base. The original recipe calls for topside steak, so you can also try this particular cut if it is available where you live.
I find that this recipe yields more or less enough for 4 adult serves, but it’s a good idea to double the quantities and freeze some sauce in portions to squirrel away in the freezer for those nights when only a big bowl of pasta will do.
Recipe inspired by Bill and Toni’s Restaurant, 72-74 Stanley Street, Darlinghurts, NSW, Australia
As published in Real Living Magazine, June 2012, page 159
Once you have made the Bolognese Sauce, you can serve it with any pasta of your choice.
The uses for Bolognese Sauce are endless. It’s lovely added to some béchamel sauce for a creamy pasta sauce, or you can go one step further and make a lasagne, substituting the tomato sauce for this Bolognese Sauce. I also sometimes use leftover Bolognese Sauce as a base for a Shepherd’s Pie, in which case I would add some mushrooms and frozen peas when reheating to make it a bit more substantial.