I do love cooking, but lately I've been trying to simplify all the meals we make at home because I simply don't really have energy for fussy, elaborate meals. Roasts have been my friends, and slow cooked meals make for wonderful easy-going activities on my back. A while back, I learnt that you can cook hamburger patties from frozen, without thawing, and people, that changed my burger eating habits profoundly (ie, they're on our menu more often). Since then, I've been searching for other ways to simplify the cooking process and skipping steps, without compromising on quality or resorting to bottled sauces. Last week, I managed to work out the what has got to be the easiest way of cooking bolognese sauce, ever. Now, I'm not italian, and am not pretending to be - so I'm not claiming this to be the most authentic bolognese there is out there. Plus, I like to shove lots of vegetables into any sauce-y food I make to up the nutrition factor. When I make bolognese, I like to slow cook it for hours so all the flavours meld, and the richness of tomatos really come through. All the waiting over the stove, stirring, and carrying a heavy pot though, aren't great for my back. Here's how my little experiment to make bolognese easy went.
I started with a heavy based roasting pan, and chucked the minced meat in it. I kinda thawed it out a little in the microwave, but they were still pretty hard. I figured for the purposes of the experiment, I was going to try and be as dodgy as possible. I used 2 parts beef mince, 1 part pork mince.
Then I emptied 4 tins of tomatos over it all. I don't get too fussy with measurements when I cook, which explains why I'm a terrible baker but an awesome main-meal person. Along with the tomatos, I drizzled in about 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil.
Then, I added a profuse amount of mixed herbs (if I have fresh I use it, if I don't it's fine too), lots of garlic, salt, pepper, and any secret ingredients you usually put in your sauce (please leave it in the comments). If I'd had a red wine bottle open, I would've splashed it all in as well.
Then I put it in the oven, which had been preheating at 120 degrees celsius. I wanted to give the meat a chance to thaw AND cook, and anything higher I think would've burnt it.
Whilst I sat back and prayed for success, I went and massacred Sonia in our Words with Friends game.
About 40 minutes later, this is what it looked like, and it smelt pretty promising!
You can see that some of the meat hasn't cooked through, but it was all soft enough for me to give it a good stir and separate the chunkier bits into little itty bitty melt in your mouth bits. Yay!
I chucked it back in the oven for another half hour, then took it out (because I got impatient!) and added the vegetables that I like to hide in our sauces. S and I would never get enough vegetables if we didn't do this!
I added in mushrooms, frozen spinach, and about half a jar of tomato paste. Usually if I have carrots on hand, I'll grate a few of those in too - you don't even taste it. Sometimes, I chop half a pumpkin up into little cubes and throw it in as well - I love the taste of it contrasting with the tangy tomato sauce! I gave everything a good stir, and then whacked it back in the oven. Another 30 minutes later, this is what it looked like:
Starting to look really yummy! At this stage, I had to go to the studio and teach, so I left the oven on about 115 degrees, and left the house.
3 hours of slow simmering in the oven later (with no touching or interference from me), we had sumptious, deep tasting, heart warming bolognese sauce.
You'll have to excuse the crappy photos - I wasn't really expecting this to turn out as good as it did so just let my iphone do the work. Mental note - must keep DSLR charged up and ready to perform at my every cooking whim!
SO, the verdict? IT. WAS. AWESOME. It hardly needed any work or supervision, and I managed to get rid of many steps like thawing the meat, browning it, and stirring over the stove. I know there's the case for browning the meat to improve its final flavour by caramelizing it etc, but to tell the truth when cooking something down for 5 hours, I don't think it makes a huge difference.
This is going to be the way I make bolognese whenever I'm time or energy short from now onwards - S couldn't taste any difference between this batch and the way I usually make it (and he's pretty discerning - err - fussy)! I could shove it in the oven in the morning and have a hot meal at night! You cannot imagine how excited I am about finding out this totally works - between the time savings, and not compromising on quality or nutrition, it is mighty pleasing.