The Cottage Smallholder

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Our best bolognaise sauce recipe

spaghettii bolognaiseI love pasta. Danny was so so for years.

When we visit Italy I am keen to sample as many of their sauces and starters as possible – looking for secrets and hints for the ultimate pasta sauce recipe. Danny sticks to steaks and puds.
“They’re the same price and I love steak.”
Danny is Chief Taster back home so he leaves the R and D to me when we are on holiday.

We haven’t eaten spaghetti bolognaise for ages.  So yesterday I thought I’d try and make a sauce with less meat. Cheaper? Yes. But I was aiming to create something that was much better than the average UK bolognaise sauce. We’ve discovered that cutting back drastically on the weekly spend does not mean we have to eat cardboard. In fact, we’re eating better, tastier meals that just cost less. This has been a revelation.

I’ve also twigged that if you are going to play with a recipe it’s better to create it the night before. There have been too many evenings that I’ve had to wake Danny to sample my recipe. Always when he’s brushed his teeth and gone to bed with a slice of bread and a hottie.

Sally left a comment on my blog that has haunted me. She writes the superb Casalba blog, lives in Italy and clearly loves to cook and eat. So the combination of vegetables must be good.
”You can make a pasta sauce: chopped onions, courgettes, carrots and celery fried until soft in olive oil. Add chopped tomatoes (tinned ones are fine also) and a good vegetable stock. Simmer for much longer than you think. I make this in very large batches then freeze in portions.”

I dilly dallied. This sauce would have to be very tasty for Danny’s approval. So I decided to add a little meat – 20% meat to 80% vegetables. I also left out the carrots as we had none. As D was on a motorway somewhere between Reading and Cheveley he wouldn’t know what was in the sauce. On his return he buzzed around the casserole, snacking and stirring. In the end I came clean and he was amazed that the dish contained so little meat.

There are a few secrets here. The mushroom ketchup, anchovy essence and balsamic vinegar all add a meaty depth. But the key ingredient is the humble courgette.

Scorned by us for years as insipid, we discovered that it transmogrifies into something much racier than its virgin self when added to shepherd’s pie, cottage pie and this spaghetti sauce.

The tomatoes, celery and peppers add a delicate sweetness because they were sweated for at least 30 minutes to enhance their individual joie de vivre. The result was a delicate sauce to die for, with a rich spectrum of flavours. This is a supper dish that I’d happily serve at a dinner party.

After supper tonight Danny announced.
“I’d happily eat this once a week and look forward to it.”
He crossed the sitting room and suddenly headed back. His head appeared in the door frame.
“In fact I’d happily eat pasta twice a week, with this sauce.”
Thank you Sally. You are a star.

Best bolognaise sauce recipe for eight hungry people with seconds


  • 2 tblsp of virgin olive oil
  • 250g of sliced onions
  • 20g of garlic crushed and chopped
  • 1 kilo of courgette, peeled and cored of seeds
  • 400g of tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 4 sticks of celery sliced very fine
  • 250g of red Romano peppers chopped (if you can only find bell peppers double the amount
  • 2 ts of mixed Italian herbs
  • 2 tsp of vegetable stock powder
  • 700g  jar of passatta
  • 2 tblsp of mushroom ketchup
  • 1 tsp of anchovy paste
  • Lashings of ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar (this takes away the tinny taste of the tomatoes)
  • 450g of minced beef
  • Heel of parmesan (it doesn’t matter how old this is, it adds exceptional flavour)


  1. Prepare all your vegetables.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy bottomed  saucepan or casserole. Add the onions and sweat for 10 minutes until they turn opaque. Add the garlic and stir well. Add the celery, courgette, peppers, tomatoes and stir well.
  3. Add the passatta and herbs, stock powder, anchovy paste, garlic, brown sugar and parmesan heel.
  4. Simmer very gently (lid on) until the vegetables are soft (this could take an hour).
  5. When the vegetables are soft add the mince. You can brown it in a frying pan – I did this last night but reckon this isn’t important (I wanted to pour off the fat). Our mince had more meat juices than fat so I tossed everything into the mix. Bring back to a very low simmering point and leave for at least another hour. Definitely worth the wait.
  6. Serve with a little fresh basil and grated parmesan.

  Leave a reply


  1. Fiona.. you have so much to answer for.. now I have spent hours reading about mushroom ketchup, the origins of ketchup (more like fish sauce really) and am embarking on a mushroom ketchup making journey .. if sucessful next autumn will see yet another preseve to be made along with others, some of which you can take the blame direct.

    Keep it up!


  2. Hi Fiona, whilst browsing I reread this and was reminded that I meant to write on here ages ago about bolognese. A huge huge tip is to include a chicken liver, just fry lightly when you are browning the meat and then mash into the sauce. It adds such depth and meatyness that you can use much less meat!

  3. Your bolognaise sauce recipe sounds really flavorful and hearty :). I would love to include your recipe in our pre-loaded Demy, the first and only digital recipe reader. Please email if you’re interested.

    To find out more about the Demy, you can visit this site:


  4. I made this recipe yesterday. It was absolutely delicious – there was so much depth of flavour. I have bagged up the leftovers and deposited them in the freezer, ready for a quick heat up dinner one day next week! Many thanks.

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