Main meals or supper dishes

Spaghetti bolognese

spag bol

Spag Bol – food for feasting

Okay, I know the origin of this dish is probably not Italian, but it has been dished up as mid-week ‘Italian’ supper fare in Britain for decades where it is affectionately known as spag bol. To be fair, the Italians would never serve a ragú sauce with a thin pasta such as spaghetti, they are much more likely to serve it with chunkier pasta such as linguine, tagliatelle or fettuccine. I know such details courtesy of Market Kitchen of which I am an avid fan. There are as many recipes for spag bol as there are cooks in Britain, which is exactly as it should be. Regional variations in the food we eat adds to the pleasure of travelling around our lovely Isles.


  • 2 tbsp light olive oil, refined coconut oil or ghee
  • 6 rashers of smoked bacon chopped or 120g of ready-chopped pancetta
  • 2 celery ribs, washed and chopped
  • 2 large onions roughly chopped
  • 2/3 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1kg lean minced beef
  • 2x400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 250g fresh mushrooms
  • 2 tblsp tomato purée
  • 30ml of red wine vinegar (or less if you prefer)
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp dried Italian herbs. Or use 2 tsp of Herbes de Provence instead.
  • 4-6 sun-dried tomato halves in oil chopped or scissored into small pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • A good handful of freshly torn basil leaves to stir into the dish at the end
  • 50g of dried spaghetti per person
  • Lots of freshly grated parmesan, to serve.

Heat the oil and then add the onion and garlic, gently sauté until soft and golden, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add celery and stir until lightly cooked. Add the bacon and fry for a couple of minutes before adding the mince. Fry until brown all over and then add the wine vinegar, tinned tomatoes and their juice, the sun-dried tomatoes and dried herbs. Bring everything to a gentle simmer and then pop into a low-moderate oven for about 2 hours or until the ragú is a rich, dark red, thick and perfectly delicious. You can also cook the mixture on the hob, but take care that it does not catch on the bottom of the pan as it thickens. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Italians add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid back into the pan the pasta cooked in to loosen the pasta and prevent it sticking. They also add the sauce to the pasta, mixing both together. In Britain, we nearly always serve the meat sauce plunked on top of the pasta. Spag bol is extra tasty when served with a light dusting of parmesan, crispy slices of garlic bread and a bowl of salad leaves. Serves 6-8 generously. Buon Appetito!

“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later, you’re hungry again.” George Miller

Pasta with chorizo and olives in a spicy tomato sauce

Pasta with chorizo, olives and tomato sauce

Pasta with chorizo and olives in a spicy  tomato sauce

This dish is one of my favourite recipes when I am pressed for time as it can be prepared with ingredients that I usually keep in my store cupboard. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make the tomato sauce from scratch, I often do. Feel free to add or detract any of the ingredients, it’s a great recipe for using up half packets of this or that.


  • 400g pasta (any type)
  • ½-1 chorizo sausage thinly sliced
  • one med onion finely chopped
  • 250g button mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2/3 tblsp brined olives roughly chopped or 2 tblsp salty capers rinsed
  • one 500ml jar of spicy pasta sauce such as arrabbiata or make your own (recipe below)

Method: Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet in salted boiling water. Start testing after 10 minutes for doneness.  Meanwhile, gently fry the slices of chorizo in an unoiled non-stick pan for 2-3 minutes. Add chopped  onion and stir until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and cook until lightly covered in oil. Add the olives or capers and the jar of tomato sauce. Simmer gently for 10-12 minutes. Drain the pasta and tip into the pan containing the sauce ingredients. Season with salt (taste first as there are a lot of salty ingredients in this dish) and freshly ground black pepper. Give the mixture a good stir and serve immediately in warmed bowls. I love this with a covering of parmesan cheese with a bowl of rocket leaves. Serves 4 generously.

If you’re not pressed for time, make your own spicy tomato sauce by chopping and gently frying 1-2 medium onions until soft and golden, crush a fat clove or two of garlic and stir into the onion mixture until cooked through. Add 2 tins of tomatoes together with one tsp of Italian herb mix, a tblsp of balsamic or red wine vinegar, 2 tblsp tomato paste/purée and ½ tsp of chilli flakes (or to taste). Cook over a gentle heat for 25-30 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

**Legend says that the water pasta is cooked in has to be as salty as the waters of the Mediterranean sea. Being faint of heart, I usually settle for 1-2 tsp of salt.


2 thoughts on “Main meals or supper dishes

  1. Dear Ethna,
    These look delicious ! – Thank You for posting the recipe/s, I had tried a Pasta Bolognese before – but no definite recipe – this will come in handy. I noticed you mentioned in your sauce recipe, balsamic or red wine vinegar – do you feel these can be interchangeable in more than this recipe ? Like your Spaghetti Bolognese ? Again, Thank you for taking the time to share, the Italians would serve with chunkier pasta – I have often wondered about this but hadn’t yet taken the time to study it out.


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