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Spaghetti bolognaise? Or “Spag bol”? Share your secrets



The ultimate cheap eat, an amazing comfort food, and a standard dish in every person’s gastro repertoire, Spaghetti Bolognese is made in a variety of ways depending on your own taste. It is so commonly eaten in Ireland that I have heard some people refer to it as Spag-Bol. Yuk! What a horrible name: Peter’s sister uses this term and it tears me up inside.

I’ve been making it for years, my ma made it for me, but that’s where the tradition ends. In my granny’s time people still thought bananas were exotic so back then Irish people probably couldn’t have located S.B.’s spiritual home, Italy, on the map but for the fact that Rome is where Irish priests go to learn how to put their sauce all over other people’s meatballs. Mamma Mia!

Some people I know put in bacon, red wine, bay leaves, Italian sausage, cream, butter, etc. Many moons ago I worked in an Italian restaurant in Spain who made all Bolognese with a finely chopped celery, carrot and onion base.

I think I make a pretty good Bolognese sauce without any fancy extras. I keep it very simple focusing almost exclusively on the humble pomodoro:

Serves one – single people are doing it for themselves!


  • ½ lb mince meat
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 6 fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 1/3 of a tube of tomato puree
  • 3 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 fresh basil leaves chopped
  • Loads of cracked black pepper
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Spaghetti pasta (don’t make my own I’m afraid, too much hassle)

... plus spaghetti = Spaghetti bolognaise! Mamma Mia!

... plus spaghetti = Spaghetti bolognaise! Mamma Mia!


Saute your onion and garlic for five minutes in a large pot. Then add your mince. And cook on a low heat until the mince is brown (5-8 mins). Throw in some black pepper and basil, making sure to keep some for later. Cook for a further 2 minutes.

Then add your various tomato products and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.

About 8 minutes from the end add the rest of the basil and throw on your pasta in a separate pot of boiling water. Add salt and olive oil the boiling water to season the pasta and stop it from sticking. If, like me, you like it al dentist it should be ready in about 7 minutes.

Serve with black pepper and a ridiculous amount of grated parmesan cheese.

So, am I doing it all wrong? Have you got a better recipe?


  1. I use Nevin Maguires recipe for Bolognese sauce and it works a treat, delicious everytime! It includes carrot, celery, onion, bacon, bay, oregano, thyme, minced beef, garlic, red wine, tomato puree, passata, chicken stock and I add a dash of worchestershire sauce. I also simmer long and slow so between 2-4 hours.

  2. As Nevins, without the bacon and wine but I add char grilled aubergines too.

  3. Same base here, although I use white wine now and again instead of red.

  4. There’s so many “traditional” spaghetti bolognaise recipes it’s hard to know which one is the right one. I usually go for the one you mentioned with carrots and celery finely chopped. I like your addition of the basil leaves though, will definitely use some next time. I know some people might have an aversion to offal but I find adding in chicken liver(chopped into tiny pieces) and pancetta gives an unbelievable amount of flavour to the sauce, if you saute it at the same time as the mince. I promise, it’s totally delicious and a good way of stretching the dish a little further.

  5. Hey Rebecca, I’ve heard that about chicken liver before. Good call. I’ve been averse to liver and kidney and the like since I was a kid, but I haven’t actually eaten either since about 1986 so you never know.

  6. you gotta add some Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce while cooking the meat and again when you’ve added the sauce. It just lifts the flavor. Also, if you have it around, add a star anise! (and a dash of red wine!)
    Oh, I know what ‘im making for dinner later! 🙂

  7. I have very fond memories of Spaghetti Bolognese from my childhood. My Dad would make it before Sports Stadium started on a Saturday afternoon and then it would simmer for 3 hours and then we would all sit down & eat it. Even now when I don’t have Spaghetti Bolognese on a Saturday it feels wrong.
    I recently made this version of Spaghetti Bolognese which is loosely based on Lorenza de’Medici’s recipe (of that famous de’Medici family) with a little touch from my Dad.
    Fry bacon (handy packs from Aldi are great) and an onion and loads of garlic, when soft, take out of the pan and then fry 1/4lb of beef mince & 1/2lb of lamb mince (this is the key!). Grate 4 carrots & 2 celery stalks and add that back in the mince, add the onion & bacon mix too. Throw in a tin of chopped tomatoes, rinse the tin with a little water & throw that in too, a little glug of red wine (traditionally you would use white but it’s not drunk in our house that often so there is never an open bottle just lying around). One teaspoon of dried basil & one of oregano. A twist of fresh ground pepper. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for the whole day.

  8. My “secret” is not so much in the ingredients but it about the browning of the mince. Brown the mince in small batches. Brown means brown not stew the mince.