Mum has always been clued up about nutrition. When I was about 10 years old I did a biology project where I had to write down everything I ate and work out all the calories and general goodness in my meals.

The problem was that this project ran over Saturday mornings, where we had the weekly treat of pancakes for breakfast. It was never just a couple of pancakes though. I had two hours of springing around in a dance classe afterwards, so Mum figured that I could eat as many pancakes as a ten year old girl physically could, and then go and work it all off afterwards. I think that the record was about 14 in one sitting. I’m not kidding.

Anyway, I wrote down my pancake intake in my notebook – probably about six or so on that occasion…with sugar and lemon. When it came to counting up the calories though, my biology teacher was horrified that I had eaten most of a 10-year-old girl’s calorie allowance just at breakfast.

Mum was fuming, and appalled at this conclusion. After all, pancakes are just a bit of milk egg and flour…a bit like eggs on toast with a glass of milk, if you think about it – or a bowl of cereal with a boiled egg. (This logic is, incidentally, applied to general nutritional values at home –we usually have at least three puddings in the fridge…but only fruit-based puddings, because that’s healthy – right.)

Anyway, I digress, but the point is that good nutrition is all about what goes into the food. “Salads” can sound really healthy, but they aren’t if it’s all fatty meat and creamy dressings. On the other hand, “apple crumble and custard” sounds really fatty, but it’s mainly fruit, with milk and eggs in the custard and oats in the topping…pretty healthy really.

People say that everyone’s bolognese is different, but my bolognese is exceedingly similar to my Mum’s. I think this is down to the fact that I’ve inherited the need to just cram in just as much goodness as possible into my cooking. (Something which Mum was particularly keen on doing when we were going through that ‘I don’t like vegetables’ phase.)

Mum’s bolognese contains spinach and grated carrots – and anything else that’s lying about, grated courgette is nice, and frying celery with the onions gives it extra depth. Give it a go – don’t just restrict yourself to tomatoes – get in as many vegetables as possible, and enjoy a nutritious bolognese that would have made my biology teacher proud.

Secret ingredients

So, here’s the recipe for the bolognese that I made on Sunday…which was (though I say so myself) pretty damned good.

2 onions

6 garlic cloves

800g extra lean beef mince

3 grated carrots

6 lumps of frozen spinach

Good squirt of tomato puree

4 tins of chopped tomatoes

Lea & Perrins (to taste)

Chopped chilli (to taste)

Dried rosemary (just because I had some lying about)

Big handful of porridge oats

Start by getting everything prepared, because it makes things less hectic when it comes to putting the bolognese together. Dice the onions, crush up the garlic, grate the carrots and…well, take the spinach out of the freezer! (unless you’re prepared enough to have fresh spinach)

Start by frying the onion in some oil, then add the garlic after a minute or so. Add the beef mince, and stir it slowly and gently so that it begins to brown all over. Next, add the grated carrot and spinach, and then put in a generous squirt of tomato paste.

Once you’re happy that the onions are nicely cooked, and that the mince is mainly brown, then tip in the tins of tomatoes. Next, is the fun bit – raiding your store cupboards to find nice bits and bobs that might enhance the bolognese, and just add a bit more depth of flavour.

On Sunday I came across Lea & Perrins, chillies and dried rosemary. Other things you might like to use could be oregano, red pepper paste, Tabasco, tomato ketchup or red/white wine. Finally, chuck in a handful of porridge oats. I do this for two reasons – firstly it thickens up the bolognese nicely, and secondly it’s another ingredient that’s really good for you.

Pop the bolognese in the oven for forty minutes or so, just to let everything thicken, and all the flavours infuse. For the classic supper, serve with spaghetti and parmesan grated on top. On Sunday I was after some comfort food though, so I had it on top of mature chedder melted on toast with carrot salad – bliss!

bolognese on toast with grated carrot salad

PS. One of the lovely things about making bolognese is that you can do a big batch over the weekend, and then have some left for lasagne, cottage pie or spaghetti bolognese during the week. Keep it covered in the fridge, and only reheat what you want to use (it’s not good to keep reheating bolognese).

If you’ve made tons, and aren’t planning to eat all the leftover bolognese within a few days, then freeze it in batches. It’s such a treat to be able to come home after work, pop a block of homemade bolognese in the microwave, and then have it with some pasta or cheese on toast – a nutritious and delicious 5 minute supper.

Individually frozen blocks of homemade bolognese


  1. Gillian Smith says

    OK – I agree with everything here EXCEPT the oats. Good grief – this is an Italian dish! My folks lived in Milan for several years before returning to Canada. Mum picked up on the language as she had to do the daily shopping. One thing she also got from her sojourn abroad was a mighty fine spag bol. Her trick is to use whatever liquid you wish: broth, wine, whatever – but reduce reduce reduce – that’s where you get the thick and rich sauce NOT from oats!

  2. says

    You busted me. The oats aren’t entirely traditional….but I’m usually too impatient/disorganised to set aside time to reduce the bolognese, so the oats are a cunning way of speeding things up.

    …along with the fact that if I have a bottle of red wine, I’m more inclined to drink it rather than put it in the bolognese!

    On another note, I had no idea that Mary lived in Milan. When I’m next over, I look forward to Buckerfield Bolognese!


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