Prep time: 30 minutes
About this recipe
“It’s not Mum food” is the story that inspired this recipe.
This is my “Mum food”. It was on our family dinner menu each week, without fail, when I was growing up. Whilst for me this dish has key attachment ingredients of familial connection and care, it also contains a fair amount of culinary hijacking, when it comes to its name. My mum’s version of Bolognese sauce has an evocative quality about it, but not one that takes me to the metropolitan city of Bologna or to the Apennine mountains. Hers in no way resembles Pellegrino Artusi’s original recipe for Maccheroni alla Bolognese; she uses no sofrito, only a little chopped onion fried in olive oil (never butter), she uses minced pork instead of veal, and her featured herb, in line with our Greek Cypriot ethnicity, is dried mint, which gives the sauce a fresh, lively tang. And the jewel in this hijacked crown of comforting pasta is the final snowdrift of grated halloumi.
This recipe also has its fair share of pernickety “mum” instructions. These include: don’t be tempted to use passata; it’s too rich. The bay leaves must be dried; fresh bay leaves are bitter whereas dried have a sweet spiciness that is just right with tomatoes. And most importantly, pre-boil the pasta; the orzo here have a silky separateness to them that cannot be achieved if you cook the pasta straight in the sauce. Doing the latter encourages a starchy situation and the final dish would have a more sticky, gelatinous quality to it, which although is pleasant, isn’t quite what you’re after here.
The was the first dish I cooked for myself in my own kitchen after leaving my family home. The recipe was simple and the reason was simpler; I missed my mum and by making her Bolognese I could feel closer to her. It’s not an authentic dish; it’s an attachment dish – my idea of noshtalgia.
- 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 500g minced pork (whatever fat preference you like)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1.5 teaspoons dried mint
- 1 teaspoon tomato puree
- 400ml chicken stock
- 2 dried bay leaves
- Salt for pasta water (you need 15g salt per litre of water you have in the pan)
- 250g orzo
- Grated halloumi
My dish is 32cm by 20cm/has a capacity of 2.3 litres – anything that is large enough take both the Bolognese sauce and the orzo will be fine.
- Blitz the tomatoes until smooth, using a stick blender or a food processor.
- Heat the olive oil in wide-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3-5 minutes, until they are a pale golden colour and softened.
- Crumble in the minced pork with your hands and fry the meat over medium-high heat until brown. If the meat turns grey, it’s an indication that either the pan is too cold or it’s too crowded. Keep the mince on the move, and stir it continuously and fairly briskly to stop it forming little lumps (use a fork if necessary to break it up); try to ensure it’s as finely broken up as possible, as it will eat better in the final dish.
- When the mince has browned, stir in the salt, pepper and dried mint. Then add in tomatoes and the puree and stir until they are evenly dispersed.
- Add the chicken stock and bay leaves, and stir well. Turn up the heat, bring the mixture to the boil and let it bubble vigorously for 2 minutes. Turn down the heat and let it blip away and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Switch off the heat and leave the sauce to calm in the pan.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Bring a large pan of water to the boil for the orzo. Once the water has reached a boil, add the required amount of salt and tip in the orzo. Bring the water back to the boil and let the orzo boil for 10 minutes.
- Drain the orzo and decant into a deep oven-proof dish. Pour over the meat sauce and give it all a gentle stir to combine.
- Cover with foil (or indeed the lid if the dish happens to have one) and bake for 20-30 minutes – it’s ready just when a slightly sticky burnt crust starts to develop on the outskirts of the pasta. Serve hot, but if you do need to leave it standing, it will stand happily, un-foiled, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with grated halloumi for as much mellow saltiness as you desire.