The Big Pasta Sauce Bake-Off: Mea Culpa!

Posted on 21/06/2011. Filed under: recipes, Uncategorized | Tags: , |

As you may (or may not) have noticed, mine host has not yet published his pasta sauce recipe. I’d like to say that this is because I have been giving you , dear reader, the opportunity to try Kev’s and Ernie’s recipes and then register your vote.

Or perhaps it has been because I have been trying to work out some particularly difficult question to do with blogging. But this, in the case of your host is a permanent default position so I won’t claim this excuse, this time.


Instead, perhaps for this rare occasion, I will tell the truth. I have been out hunting goats.

Why? I hear you ask.

Well, I was so overwhelmed by the brilliance of Kev’s and Ernie’s recipes that I realised that I would have to do something out of the ordinary to stand any chance of resting the trophy from these two seasoned internationals. Kev’s recipe draws upon his rich Scottish tradition, while Ernie’s emerges from the exotic orient.

Why not turn inwards and draw our ingredients from within this island continent. But, I drew the line at kangaroos and emus due to their position on the coat of arms. However, because by birth I am a Capricorn (remember 19th January with presents!), what could be more appropriate than a feral pasta sauce. I had toyed with the idea of a venison ragout which I had considered as the basis of a “Bambi Pasta”, but in the end, swayed by the desire to strike out against the aggressively feral, I conceived the notion of “Spaghetti Capricorn”, the recipe for which is as follows:

Ingredients (Serves 4)

1kg Goats meat
5 cloves garlic
4 onions
6 cans diced tomatoes
3 carrots
2 eggplants
1 stick celery
1/2 cup oregano
2 bay leaves
500 ml dry red wine (preferably a Shiraz)
1 bouquet garni
1 tbsp olive oil

pasta Capricorn


Heat olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan
Add crushed and finely chopped garlic.
Add finely chopped onion and saute until golden.
Add diced goat meat and stir with wooden spoon so that meat is seared on all sides.
Add salt, pepper and spices.
Add beef stock. Allow meat to stew for approx 5 mins.
Add wine and bring to boil.
Add carrots, celery & egg-plant.
Add diced tomatoes.
Bring to boil & then reduce heat.
Allow to simmer with lid on saucepan for approx. 2 hours.
When sauce is ready, boil pasta to your liking.
Drain & mix with sauce
Sprinkle liberally with parmesan cheese when serving.
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The Big Pasta Sauce Bake Off

Posted on 25/05/2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

When it comes to pasta sauce, everybody has their favourite and many believe that the best sauce is the never-fail one that they make themselves.

I was discussing this topic with two of my old school mates, neither of whom I would have associated with classic Italian cooking. Kev and Ernie were waxing lyrical about the merits of their very own recipes which had been handed down through the generations and had subtly improved to achieve perfection with each generational modification.

Spanish Armada

Make Bairn

Kev, whose heritage is Scottish, maintains that his recipe came into the family through an Italian mercenary who had been shipwrecked when the Spanish Armada ran aground in Scotland. He would have drowned had it not been for the soft-hearted, sentimental, young highland lass in whose ample bosom he found himself cradled when he was washed ashore. She was enthusiastically administering the kiss of life when he regained consciousness and he showed his gratitude immediately and often over the years in the manner for which Italian men have been renowned. As a result he was referred to in an admiring and jocular fashion by the local swains as “Make Bairn”, which over the years became corrupted to McBain, the name by which Kev’s family is known to this day.

Ernie, who has heaped ridicule and cast doubt upon this story on the grounds that no ancestor of Kev’s could ever have earned the soubriquet of “Make Bairn”, boasts a much longer and grander lineage. He argues that spaghetti (and hence spaghetti sauce) originated in China in a family who really did know how to “make bairns”.

The Lee Dynasty

One only needs to consult the Hong Kong white pages to see the truth of this claim. The Lee Dynasty is both legion and legend throughout the whole of China.

Marco Polo

It was from one Mr Lee that Marco Polo procured the very pasta recipe that I shared with my loyal readers in my last blog post. The cunning Polo thought that by changing the name “noodles” to “spaghetti”  he could obscure his perfidy. But he had not reckoned on the avenging spitit of Mr Lee’s antipodean descendant and Ernie sees this very blog as his opportunity to settle the score for all time.

His logic is faultless; if he can demonstrate that he possess the world’s best pasta sauce recipe, the recipe that the dastardly Polo was not able to wrench from the feeble grasp of poor, elderly and debilitated Mr Lee, then centuries of lies will be expunged and the whole of China can rejoice and reclaim its rightful place at the apex of the culinary firmament.

The plan is simple. Kev and Ernie’s recipes will be published in today’s blog and over the coming weeks any reader who believes they  have a recipe which may challenge these recipes is invited to post them in the comments’ section of this blog.

The competition will be judged by you the readers and if necessary the final word will be given to La Nonna in the event that the voting does not yield a clear-cut winner.

Now to the recipes!

                  Kev’s Recipe


–          2 onions ( diced)

–          Heaped teaspoon finely chopped garlic

–          2 cans Roma tomatoes

–          Half capsicum ( diced )

–          4 medium sticks celery ( finely sliced and including leafy tops )

–          Quantity of home made vegetable stock

–          Half a bottle of quality red wine . I always bring red wine to the boil before use to burn off the alcohol which can leave a sharp metallic taste to a dish

–          Freshly ground pepper

–          125 ml of tomato paste

–          2 bay leaves ( fresh if possible . Basil or oregano are options depending on taste )

–          Tablespoon of sugar


–          Assemble your ingredients . A large cast iron casserole dish like La Cruesset is preferable utensil

–          Take a sip of wine

–          Sauté onions in olive oil at low heat until clear

–          Add garlic and continue sauté for 2 minutes

–          Take 2 sip of wine

–          Dice tomatoes and add to pot

–          Chop and toss remainder of ingredients and add

–          Take 3 sips of wine

–          Simmer for 3 hours , stirring regularly . Do not allow to boil

–          Sip the rest of the bottle of wine

–          Depending on your ability to dice finely ,you may wish to pass your sauce through a blender

I am sure the feeling of wellbeing will mask your lack of cooking skills


Ernie’s Recipe


6 red capsicums.Cut in thirds, grill until skin bubbles and remove skin when cool. Does not matter if some skin remains. Cut into 3-4 mm cube pieces.

1 large eggplant, peel and dice into 10mm cubes.

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced.

Place 3 tablespoons of light olive oil into a stainless steel saucepan on a medium heat and lightly fry garlic. Add capsicum and stir until heated through and then add eggplant. Stir until all heated through and juices start to come out.

Add 2 tablespoons of tomato paste.

A half tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of salt with quarter cup of water.

Half cup of St Henri Shiraz….I insist on this Shiraz so that the wine can then be enjoyed with the meal.

A tablespoon and a half of white balsamic vinegar.

Add handful of oregano and half handful of parsley.

Simmer on low heat for at least an hour and only stir when necessary to prevent sticking as it is to be a chunky sauce.

Stir in three tablespoons of thick cream and continue simmer for another 15 mins. (A variation to the sauce which I prefer: Instead of 3 tablespoons of thick cream use 2 tablespoons of cream and 1 small rough chopped avocado in the last 15 minutes of simmering)

This should be sufficient for two meals for 4 people and can be frozen in a clean coffee bottle.

For the seafood do not use marinara mix from the supermarkets…really dislike vannemei prawns which like chickens are laced with chemical feed. Also a problem with the bought mix is that all ingredients are cooked for the same time resulting in some being overcooked.

The seafood can be of your liking and quantity. For 4, I would have:

8 green Tiger/King prawns,

8 scallops (preferably roe on),

8 mussels,

2 squid tubes and

2 salmon fillets cut into 12mm cubes.

Fry each ingredient separately with olive oil until just cooked. Mix together in saucepan and then stir in the sauce to cover by at least 15mm.

Divide on top of your favourite pasta and sprinkle with grated parmesan.

As you know pasta was invented in China and this marinara sauce has been handed down from generation to generation in our family. I am reluctant to divulge it but the promise of a prize of QV SOFT SOAP has softened my resolve.

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Making your own pasta: A life-changing experience

Posted on 28/03/2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

I guess everybody is familiar with “slow food“. When you look into the philosophy behind it, it’s not surprising that the movement had its beginnings in Italy, where food is not just appreciated but worshiped and whole conversations can be taken up with a particular dish the way that the English can while away hours discussing the weather.

If you want to understand and appreciate the philosophy behind slow food you could do no better than reflect on that essential Italian dish: pasta. It comes in many varieties, each boasting its own particular origins and bearing its own story  .

In the way pasta may be experienced in Australia, we can observe the complete fast – slow continuum. At the fast end, we find the Heinz Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. Most Italians will tell you “That’s not spaghetti!”, but for many of us Australians it was the only form of spaghetti we knew and judging by the supermarket shelves, it still has a sizeable following here.

Moving along our fast-slow continuum, we come to the dried pasta. As far as the preparation time of this is concerned, nothing (except Heinz spaghetti) could be much faster – just boil for however long it says on the packet. The issue of time only becomes relevant when we consider which sauce to serve. My favourite is perhaps the most simple, consisting of nothing more than olive oil and roasted garlic. But my wife and La Nonna have been known to work lovingly most of the afternoon to prepare a ragout consisting mainly of veal and tomatoes which is so rich that you can’t believe that you won’t weigh an extra 2 kilos at the end of the meal. I intend to devote some later blogs to the preparation of sauces for your pasta.

For now, however, let’s turn our attention to the slow end of the fast – slow continuum – home made pasta. I’m going to assume that you have access to a pasta maker, whether it’s manual or electric. If you have an energetic partner, you could consider the manual one, but the electrical one isn’t particularly expensive. My wife tells me she has seen La Nonna do this entirely by hand, but even she has bowed to technology and uses an electric pasta maker.

Home-Made Pasta Dough

400g plain flour
4 whole eggs, lightly beaten
salt to taste
Place flour onto a clean work surface. (We have a granite cupboard top which is excellent, but a marble or laminated surface will be fine.) Make a volcano shape with the flour, forming a crater in the centre.  Put the eggs and the salt into the “crater” and  gradually work them into the flour until a soft and pliable dough forms. Dust your hands with dry flour if things get a bit messy.Knead the dough until smooth and consistent – 5 minutes should be enough.
Cover the dough and place it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Divide dough into 4 balls. Flatten each ball into a disk so that it passes through the pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold in half lengthways and repeat. Keep rolling several times on each setting until you reach the narrowest setting.
You may need to cut the pasta to make it more manageable if it gets too long.
Dust rolled pasta with extra flour and allow to sit for 10 minutes before using, or air dry the pasta until required.

In later posts I’ll show you how to use the dough to make a variety of types of pasta.

In the meantime, if you would like to checkout a You Tube video of a demonstration of fettuccine being made, click here

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Classic Italian Cooking

Posted on 29/12/2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

For many years I was sceptical about Italian cooking. I didn’t think it was particularly good; certainly not as good as French cuisine. Too much oil and garlic. And pasta and pizza reflected their peasant origins: filling but far from elegant!

Then I married an Italian and met  “Nonna”. And tasted her lasagne! I had eaten lasagne many times before; I’d even made it myself and been praised for my efforts by my guests. I’d eaten it in restaurants here in Australia and in Italy. But it was never in the same class as Nonna’s lasagne.

In fact the same thing applied to her gnocchi, to her spaghetti, her meat balls, her veal cutlets, her salads, in fact to everything she cooked.

What was it that set her cooking apart from the food I had eaten in Italian restaurants and trattorias? This essential difference was what defined the classic in her cooking.

First, it is home cooking. Cooking done by a Nonna for her family. Cooking whose most important ingredient is love. Not a sloppy, romantic thing but a robust love of a mother for her children. A love that gives of its time generously, that thinks nothing of spending a whole morning making the sheets of pasta for the lasagne.

Second (and closely related to the first) the ingredients are fresh and of good quality. Preferably from Nonna’s garden or from the garden of a friend.

Third, the recipe has been passed down orally over generations.

There are other characteristics which define classical Italian cooking, but that will do for now.

Over the coming weeks (months? years?) I’ll pass on some of the recipes that I’ve seen Nonna implement without ever seeing her consult a recipe book. Use them to get started but abandon them as soon as you can. Don’t let them come between you and your love affair with your ingredients and the cooking process. Don’t let the written word come between you and inspiration.

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Hello world!

Posted on 29/12/2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Welcome to WordPress.com. This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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