I started cooking when I was 16. I was inspired by Home Economics lessons and by watching my Gran and Mum cook. Luckily for me, my Mum was more than happy for me to take the reigns in the kitchen & prepare her dinner most nights. Don’t get me wrong, I was by no means a culinary whizz, I simply had 4 meals I was confident cooking and that didnt require much thought: Shepherds Pie, Chicken & Veg Soup, Spaghetti Bolognese and Apple Crumble. By the time I was 19 and I had moved to Glasgow these meals pretty much formed the basis of my diet.
I firmly believe that whether or not you consider yourself a “good” cook, or even whether or not you actually enjoy cooking, it helps to have a basic repertoire of meals than you know you can cook and you know will always turn out great. Once you can achieve this, your confidence builds and then you are more likely to experiment and try new things in the kitchen.
What I learned to cook back when I was 16 are still meals I churn out today. The only difference is small tweaks here and there. For example, my classic (and much loved by my Mum & brother) Chicken & Veg soup comes out every winter. Although come Spring, I might swap the potatoes for pasta and add a little pesto lighten it up. Or I turn it into a hearty Lentil & Veg soup if I’m out of chicken.
For this and next weeks post, I’m offering you two ways with bolognese, because this is one of the best meals to have in your repertoire. The first recipe is Classic Spaghetti Bolognese and the second recipe (next week) is an adaptation of this classic meal, and what I like to call: Lazy Lasagne.
Classic Spaghetti Bolognese
Spaghetti Bolognese was 1 of the first meals I ever learned to cook and I’ve made only minimal changes to how I cooked it as a teenager. This will serve 6 portions of spaghetti bolognese, alternatively, it will serve 2 portions of Spag Bol and the leftovers can be used for the Lazy Lasagne.
Regardless of how many people you are intending to feed, make a MASSIVE pot of the stuff and freeze individual portions in freezer bags. You can easily reheat bolognese from frozen in a pot while the pasta is cooking. That way you’re only ever 10 mins away from a home-cooked meal, even after a busy day.
Make it Veggie: Replace the minced beef with puy lentils. Just cook the onion, mushrooms & courgette in oil over a medium heat for 5-7mins. Stir in the lentils & garlic then continue the instructions below from adding the tinned tomatoes. Cook for 1hour until lentils are soft. You can also add canned chickpeas, kidney beans or borlotti beans.
Make it Vegan: Remove the parmesan cheese & use dried vegan pasta (so check the ingredients are only: Durum, Semolina and Water)
Break up the minced beef with your fingers & add to a large pot. Dice the onions into large chunks & add to the pot of mince. Season with salt & pepper and cook over a high heat. Stir a few times to ensure the mince browns all over.
Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms and courgette into small chunks.
Once the mince is browned add the chopped mushrooms and courgettes to the pan along with dried herbs and bay leaves. Either grate, chop or crush the garlic cloves & add to the pot. Cook on a medium heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly.
Add the tinned tomatoes to the pot. Then, half-fill the empty tin with water (from the tap), swirl it around (to catch all the tomato-ey residue) and add this to the pot. Add the red wine, tomato puree and red pepper jelly & worcestershire sauce (if using). Bring to a boiling point, then reduce to a rapid simmer, partially covered.
Cook for 1-2hours. The longer you cook this, the better tasting it will become. If you feel the bolognese is too watery, remove the lid & increase the heat. Let it bubble away furiously, stirring occasionally to stop it burning, so the liquid reduces.
Taste and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of brown sugar. Reduce to a very low heat & stir through the fresh chopped herbs.
Once the bolognese is ready, cook your spaghetti. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Chuck the spaghetti in & cook until al dente (check the packet instructions, but this is normally 10 mins).
Drain the pasta and serve in a shallow bowl with a hearty dollop of bolognese. A greedy sprinkling of parmesan cheese or a grind of fresh pepper is always a good shout, then apply to face.
You can freeze this bolognese in a plastic container, with a lid, for up to 2 months. Or keep in the fridge for 2-3 days.
What was the first meal you ever learned to cook? Do you still cook it? What meals did you learn to cook in Home Economics class? Let me know your thoughts!