Pappardelle alla Bolognese

Categories: Main Course, Recipes, West
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Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: November 7, 2011

“Spagbol” it has to be one of my most loathed terms.  It represents all that is wrong with British-Italian cooking.  Spaghetti with a bolognese sauce?  Every time you tell an Italian to try the spaghetti bolognese, they will look at you like you are some kind of freak.  Spaghetti just doesn’t pick up a lot of meat sauce, it works for a marinara sauce but not for a meat based sauce.  If you are making bolognese it should be paired with tagliatelle, fettucini or pappardelle (or similar).  For me, “Spagbol” drags up memories of lazy cooking, it sounds lazy and the end product is usually awful.  All I can think of is overcooked, tasteless spaghetti with this off colour mince with all the texture of a mouth full of grit.  I feel like it’s my duty to right this terrible wrong and hopefully save at least one person from this horrible fate of weekly bowls of god-awful “Spagbol”.

To start with, we will be doing away with the spaghetti (if you hadn’t guessed already).  Just to be radical this recipe will also do away with mince… yes that’s right, ditch the mince!  Instead there is a choice of two cuts of beef, shin or skirt.  In this instance, I’m going with shin but they’re fairly interchangeable for this recipe.  There are a couple of reasons for ditching mince.  Firstly, I find using mince in bolognese can give the whole dish a very gritty texture, you might like that mouthful of sand but not too many others will thank you for it.  Second, taste.  Mince tends to be the cheapest, nasty bit of beef that can be recovered from the carcass.  By choosing to use shin or skirt, you are still getting a cheap piece of meat but you know it’s good quality and full of flavour.  Lastly, the chunks of meat cook better.  Because this is a long, slow cooked recipe all the meat will be falling apart with the fat melting through the whole dish.  If you try to cook thin bits of mince for that long, it soon becomes dry and hard.

If you’ve seen Heston Blumenthal’s perfect spaghetti bolognese then you will have a fair idea of what is in this recipe, but this is much simpler.  I’ve seen a couple of chefs do things very similar things, Jamie Oliver cooked his meat in a pressure cooker to speed things up (an excellent idea).  Everyone seems to have a slightly different way of preparing the ragu and each has their own unique taste.  So if you want to introduce some additional ingredients, feel free!  The recipe can easily be adapted to your tastes.  I would keep the star anise in, as it really adds flavour to the dish.  However you choose to do this recipe, try to keep the soffritto (carrots, onions and celery) in roughly equal proportions, but a little extra onion doesn’t hurt.


Ingredients (Serves 6-8)

750g Beef Shin / Skirt

500ml Beef Stock

500g Dry Pappardelle Pasta

10-12 Medium tomatoes (large cherry or plum tomatoes)

3 Carrots

6 Ribs of Celery

1-2 Large Onion(s)

6 Cloves of garlic

3 Star Anise

1 Tbsp Tomato Concentrate

Handful of fresh basil

Olive Oil

Pecorino for sprinkling



1.  Start by cutting up the beef into chunks.  Dice the carrots, celery and onions.  Crush and roughly chop the garlic and finally cut the tomatoes into quarters.  Pre-heat your oven to 175C.

2.  In a large casserole dish heat three tablespoons of Olive oil.  Once up to heat add in the beef and lightly brown it, season with salt and pepper.  Add in the garlic about half way through browning.  Remove the beef and garlic with a slotted spoon and reserve.

3.  Add another one or two tablespoons of olive oil to the pot then throw in the diced onions, carrots and celery.  Season with a little salt and pepper and fry until they have started to soften.

4.  Add the stock to the soffritto then return all the beef and garlic to the pot and bring the mix to a simmer.

5.  Add the tomatoes, the tomato concentrate, star anise and the basil to the pot, stir and allow to simmer for 10-15mins.

6.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven for at least 4 hours.  Alternatively you can heat the whole pot overnight (8 hours) at 150C.

7.  When you remove the pot from the oven give it a stir.  If the meat flakes and the soffritto has all combined when stirred with a fork it is ready.  At this point your ragu can be kept in the fridge for a day or two until you are ready to use it.

8.  On the day, heat a large pan of salted water.  Once it is boiling add in the pappardellle pasta and cook until al dente.

9.  While the pasta is being cooked, reduce the ragu on a medium-high heat.  You want to remove most of the stock water from the ragu, so when you stir the meat you get a thin gravy like sauce.  Check for seasoning and remove the star anise.

10.  Drain the pasta and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil to prevent it sticking.  Plate the pasta by twisting it around a fork and on to the plate, then spoon over the bolognese.  Finish with some grated Pecorino cheese on top but mix it all before eating to let the sauce coat the pasta!



When reducing the ragu, keep stirring it or it will burn.

Place the star anise in muslin cloth to keep them from breaking apart into the rest of the bolognese, it also makes it easier to fish them out at the end.

You can add a few more herbs if you wish, thyme, oregano or marjoram all work well.

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