Bolognese sauce (our way)

My family first learned about spaghetti bolognese in 1974, from English migrants living around the corner from us in our country town. To us, it was the most exotic thing ever and we begged the mum for the recipe. Needless to say, their version didn’t have red wine and parmesan, but we still thought it was amazing.

'Spaghetti' bolognese

‘Spaghetti’ bolognese

Italian chefs get a bit defensive about too much change from their original. I was surprised to see how close our family recipe already was to the approved Bologna version, and the wikipedia version, even though it wasn’t anything like the actual bolognese sauce we had in Bologna. This recipe really is the one we have been making for years.

It probably would have been a staple in my student days, but I was a bit vegetarian at the time, partly due to taste and partly due to money. Sad to say, morals, health and ethics had nothing to do with it. I just really like vegan food.

And, in case you’re wondering, our family’s version had changed significantly from that first recipe my mum wrote down. But it was a long time ago, and we’ve since discovered parmesan!

The first recipe we ever had for spaghetti bolognese

The first recipe we ever had for spaghetti bolognese

Spaghetti bolognese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves (or more if you like garlic)
  • 2 carrots
  • a stick of celery
  • 1 kilogram of minced beef
  • a splash of red wine
  • a large tin (800g) of chopped tomatoes (we use Ardmona tomatoes because they actually have tomatoes in them)
  • a large tablespoon of tomato paste (or more, it’s up to how tomato-ish you like the sauce)
  • bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh basil and oregano


  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. While it’s heating up, chop the onion, garlic and other vegetables into very small pieces.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic.
  3. Add the meat. Stir it round until it is well browned.
  4. Add all the other ingredients then turn the heat down and cook on low for about an hour or so.
  5. Serve with freshly cooked spaghetti and some grated parmesan.


If you’re on a  shoestring budget, or if you don’t like the heaviness of the meat in your tummy, then it’s an easy matter to bulk the sauce out with red lentils. It has to be red lentils: these take only 15 minutes or so to cook down into the sauce. Nobody will taste the difference unless you tell them. I’ve shown some here in the photo so you can get an idea of proportions; they’re usually less detectable to the untrained eye!

Spaghetti bolognese with lentils

Adding lentils is an easy way to bulk out the bolognese sauce on a budget


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