How To Cook: Bolognese

Bolognese is great because it’s easy to make, requires one pan, can sit on a hob for hours and tastes great for it, and can be made in vast options (the only limit is the size of your pan). It’s also the basis for lasagne and nearly the same recipe as chilli and shepherd’s pie and cottage pie. Learn one recipe, use it lots more. It’s also nearly impossible to undercook it and kill someone. But then undercooking food and killing someone -heck even giving people an upset stomach- is nigh on impossible with most every single food you’ll cook (unless your cooking food that’s already turned bad before you cook it, but why would you do that?).

You have two options here:

A) Brown some mince, pour over some jar of bolognese sauce, cook some pasta, serve.

B) Do it all yourself. Note how I don’t say “do it properly yourself” just “do it all yourself” because doing the above still counts as feeding people properly, it’s just not as fun or as cheap or as tasty as if you do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself therefore, here’s a recipe.


Pre-amble: Don’t worry if this recipe looks long, it’s because I like to waffle and everything is explained in painstaking detail. The recipe is a really simple relaxed recipe, the only thing to worry about is if things start to stick to the bottom of the pan, because that’s the prequel to burning and that makes stuff taste nasty. If slicing vegetables is taking a long time and you’re worried stuff will burn while you’re doing it just turn the heat down and don’t panic.

Minimum cooking time: 40 minutes if you can cut up stuff quickly.
Maximum cooking time: Ages. Leave it to sit warm on the hob barely simmering after you put the tomatoes in and it’ll sit for hours. Add some water if it dries out. Or make everything but the pasta the day before, let it cool down, fridge it, then re-heat on the hob up to two days later with freshly cooked pasta.


  • Cooking oil
  • Onions, 1 large onion for every two-three people
  • Garlic, 1 clove per person plus one extra
  • Beef Mince, about 150-200g per person, which is like one of the small mince packets for two or three people
  • Optional: Suitable vegetables, e.g.; Mushrooms / Courgettes / Peppers / Carrots, A handful or so cut up per person.
  • Optional: Red wine / Worcester Sauce, either about half a glass per 4 people of wine or 1 good glug per person of Worcester Sauce.
  • Tinned / Cartoned Tomatoes, one tin / carton per two people-ish
  • Tomato Puree (or if you don’t have any ketchup), one good squirt per person
  • Loads of dried basil, maybe a fifth of a basil per two people? I like Basil and Basil loves tomato sauces.
  • Some other herbs, I’m a big fan of oregano and cinammon here, but some people like rosemary and thyme.
  • Whatever type of pasta you prefer. I like the medium sized tube ones with pasta but each to their own. You can even use actual spaghetti but only if you like watching people struggle to eat it. Use whatever it says on the side of the packet per person
  • Mature cheddar for grating on top
  • Salt and Pepper (Obviously)


  • Find a big pan high-sided pan and heat some oil on a medium heat, dice some onions and throw them into the oil. Push them around the pan every now and again so they don’t burn untill they’re soft and slightly coloured. (Pro youth work tip, in every youth group there is one young person who states they hate onions. They don’t, they hate the big lumps of onions that aren’t properly cooked. So just make sure they’re diced fairly finely and cooked properly.)
  • Slice up the garlic fairly into small bits and throw into the pan with the onions and push it around for a couple of minutes. (To peel garlic quickly, take a clove, slice off the tough end, then place the wide flat side of your knife on it and press down with the palm of your hand, the garlic should then squish outwards releasing lots of nice juices and the skin should come off slightly. Peel the rest of it off then cut it up. Or buy a garlic crusher, but for every minute you save on cutting up add two minutes to the time it’ll take to wash the stupid thing up.)
  • Dump in the mince with some salt and turn the heat up a bit, push it around the pan so it starts to brown all over.
  • If you’re using veg: While it’s browning cut up the veg into small-ish pieces. (See above pro youth work tip about Onions for the Mushrooms, Peppers and Courgettes.)
  • When the meat’s browned thrown in the veg. If things start to stick to the bottom turn it down a bit, and move it around some more.
  • If you’re using wine or Worcester Sauce (and do, because it’ll taste nicer): Pour it into the pan and stir it around and let it cook a bit.
  • You should now have a bunch of browned meat, onions, and veg sitting in a pan in some juices from the meat. This is good.
  • Open the tins or cartons of tomatoes. Pour them over the meat.
  • Add the puree or ketchup. Stir in.
  • Add the lots of basil and some other herbs. I like oregano and a bit of cinammon. Add salt and pepper. Taste it. Does it taste nice? Does it need more salt? (Probably, salt is a whole essay in itself, but for now just put in salt to everything in small amounts frequently and taste it.)
  • Depending on how good quality your cans or tins of tomatoes are your sauce will now be more or less watery. Let the pan now simmer for about twenty minutes or untill the sauce has reduced down (water’s boiled or evaporated off and so the sauce is thicker). If the sauce gets to thick or the bolognese starts to stick to the bottom of the pan add some more water. You can serve it really at any point here as everything’s cooked, but it’ll taste better the longer you leave it.
  • Cook some pasta as the packet says when the bolognese is nearly done.
  • Place a portion of pasta in bowls (not plates! It’ll make a mess!) and ladle some bolognese on top with lots of grated cheese for people to help themselves to. Maybe some salad as well? Bread to mop up? You decide!

Bonus option C

At any stage between “browning the meat” and “pouring in loads of tomatoes” you can just give up on the recipe and pour over some shop bought bolognese sauce. You’ll have made nicer than normal shop bought bolognese.

Bonus option Lasgane

Make bolognese as above (even the day before). Make a white sauce (or just buy white lasagne sauce from a shop). Place a layer of bolognese in baking dish, then a layer of lasagne sheets, then a layer of white sauce. Repeat. Repeat again if you have enough food and space in the dish. Finish with a layer of grated cheddar and / or Mozzarella (Sainsbury’s sell basic Mozzarella balls, this is fine). Place in oven at around 160-180 for 40 minutes or untill nice and brown.

Bonus option Chilli

Do exactly as the same above but replace the veg with now non-optional kidney beans (drain them from the tin before pouring them in) and replace the herbs with lots of ground cumin and paprika, a bit of ginger, cinammon and coriander, and as much chilli powder as you wish. Serve with rice instead of pasta. That’s really it. (To make it even better, chop up some chillis and put them in with them garlic. You can also add cumin seeds with the chillis if you have any. Add tabasco sauce at the end if it’s not hot enough. Also brown the onions with less oil and over a much hotter heat so they smoke slightly, but those things are all optional so don’t worry about them.)

Bonus option Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie

Shepherd’s pie involves lamb mince, cottage pie involves beef mince. Make it like bolognese but add at most one tin of tomatoes (you may just want to throw a couple of fresh ones in instead). Also you should probably put some chopped carrots in as part of the veg. Because you don’t have tinned tomatoes in which would add liquid pour in some water or chicken stock (you can pretty much always use chicken stock whenever stock is called for) so it doesn’t stick. Also replace the massive amounts of basis with a wider variety of herbs (rosemary and thyme in particular, especially rosemary if you use lamb). When it’s made, place it in a baking dish and then put mash potato on top. Oven it for 40 minutes or until the mash is golden brown.