Vegetables in Disguise: Bolognese Sauce Recipe

Let me preface this post by admitting that I’ve never really been very good with vegetables.

I have vivid memories of dramatically dry retching when my parents would insist that a hideous and slimy piece of mushroom be ingested. A charming habit which I have now apparently passed down to my eldest son, who is equally theatrical with his reactions to vegetables.

And then there was the forced stint in Veganism during my teen years which well and truly cured me of any lingering attachment to a plant-based diet (as well as instilling an utter distaste of Nutmeat, tofu… and let’s just say ‘falsified’ food of any kind!)

Then I had kids.

Homemade baby food became a bit of a thing for me, and I relished in boiling, steaming and mashing fruits and vegetables of every colour… filling an entire freezer drawer with options for Eli’s dining pleasure.

All of my kids loved vegetables… until they tasted the rest of the food spectrum, and it became all but impossible for anything green or leafy to pass ‘Go’.

Case in point: Last night at the Open House BBQ I put on each of the boy’s plates one sausage, one lone cherry tomato and a side of potato chips. Because I’m realistic like that.

Nevertheless, I still have one super meal left in the arsenal that I silently giggle with glee when serving, because it contains no less than NINE different vegetables… and they have absolutely no idea. The boys even list it as one of their favourite meals.

Spaghetti Bolognese.

It isn’t your most traditional recipe, but I’ve found it to be the most versatile meal in my repertoire.

Once every so often, I cook up a hearty batch of the meat sauce, serve it for that evening’s meal as Bolognese, and then divide up the rest of the contents of the pot into ziplock bags to be frozen.  The sauce is so versatile, it can be re-imagined as Chili Con Carne (just add a can each of tomatoes and white beans, cumin, paprika and chili flakes), Shepherd’s Pie (add some red wine, worsterchire sauce, peas and corn and top with potato), filling for Meat Pie, Lasagna, Burritos… The list can be as long as your imagination.

The thrift angle of the meal thrills me as well. For a 2kg package of minced beef (for around $16.00 at Aldi), whatever seasonal vegetables you have growing or taking up fridge space you can churn out around six meals for a family of five. I’m no expert at maths, but that’s a damn good deal.

The only catch is, you need a food processor of some kind, unless you want to drive yourself to insanity by chopping up all the vegetables into miniscule pieces. And then the thrill of the meal will have well and truly worn off.

It’s a good one to get the kids involved in making too, as mine are always more than eager to push the button and watch the vegetables become obliterated. Or just get one to peel an onion. It will take them twenty minutes of intense concentration. I tried it on Hudson today.

You can also do it in a slow cooker, which is a double win for crazy hour!

I present:

Bolognese Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 onions
5 cloves of garlic
2 leeks*
4 peeled carrots
3 sticks of celery
4 rashers of bacon (rind removed)
3 capsicums
2 zucchinis*
3 eggplants*
Handful of mushrooms*
2kg beef mince
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tsp hot paprika
3 Tsp stock powder
1 Tsp chili flakes
2 bay leaves
2 cups water (1/2 cup ONLY if using slow cooker)
Salt and pepper to taste

*Feel free to substitute whatever vegetables you have on hand instead of these, and as many as you wish to add. The sauce reduces substantially even if it initially feels as if it is three quarters filled with veggies.

1. Process onions and leeks to tiny pieces and toss into pot with oil. Cook on low heat until soft.
2. Process bacon, celery and carrot. Add to pot. Cook on medium-high heat until browning.
3. Mince garlic and add to pot. Cook for one minute.
4. Process remaining vegetables and add to pot. Ensure excess water from vegetables is cooked out.
5. Add the meat to the mix and stir in well. Cook until brown.
6. Add spices, salt and pepper, bay leaves and tomato paste. Stir well
7. Allow to bubble away on stove on low heat for at least an hour or more, stirring occasionally (or in slow cooker until dinner time). You will need to skim the surface of oil during the cooking period.
8. If using slow cooker, return pot to stove top prior to serving to reduce the sauce.
9. After serving, divide up remainder into ziplock bags to be frozen. I find the gallon ones from Costco are the best because they can be frozen flat in the freezer and stacked high to take up less room.

Happy cooking!

(Sorry about my poor photographic skills with the recipe. I’m far too lazy to rearrange things when taking photos, so this is an ‘as is’ shoot of the meal in all its messy glory!)


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