Sneaky Veggie Bolognese (for those adorable food snobs at your house)
One of the most challenging things with food in our family is trying to get the kids (and the fussy adults) to eat their veg. This recipe is only slightly adapted from the way my Maltese grandmother made Bolognese sauce, to include way more vegetables.
This recipe has been tried and tested on kids who “don’t like” mushrooms or zucchini, and there is a whole lot of both of these in it. It's also a great way of “stretching” meat, for budget friendly meals. This recipe is also great for using up bits and pieces of veg, so by all means, don’t feel restricted to use precisely the vegetables suggested - it’s about practicality!
The ground meat can really be whatever you prefer. I’ve made this with beef, turkey, pork, or a mix. I usually use whatever I find on special at the supermarket.
If you are trying to avoid salt (very young kids, or any other reason), you can totally skip the bacon, but it does make it extra tasty!
You don’t need any special equipment to make this, although a food processor comes in handy. If you don’t have one, don’t worry, a grater will do just as good a job (use the largest holes).
1lb ground meat (I used 5% beef this time)
6 medium carrots
4 medium onions (or 2 large)
2 large zucchini
¾ lb mushrooms
3-4 garlic cloves
4 slices smoked bacon (optional), chopped into pieces
2 tablespoons Italian tomato paste
1 28oz can Italian tomatoes (chopped or peeled)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano/Italian herbs
Pepper and salt to taste
Low sodium chicken stock (about 14 oz)
Before you start, take the meat out of the fridge to bring to room temperature.
Prepare the vegetables: Grate/chop the carrots and onions.
In a large, heavy based pot, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to medium heat, and add the carrots and onions. Stir, and cook for about 5 minutes until slightly softened.
While they are cooking, grate/chop the mushrooms and zucchini, and once done, add them to the pot. Cook for a good 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. It really needs to cook down until all the liquid has evaporated, and the veggies are totally soft. This step is important for sneaking the veggies into the sauce!
Heat a large frying pan and add the chopped bacon; cook until crispy. Use a slotted spoon to move the bacon to the pot of cooking veggies, leaving the fat in the pan. Add ground meat in the frying pan, and brown well. Once it’s browned, add the crushed garlic and tomato paste to the meat, stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add the meat mixture to the large pot, stir well and add the tomatoes, sugar, herbs and stock, season lightly with salt and pepper (you can always add more later).
Bring to a bubble, then reduce, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes to prevent it from catching. Once it’s ready, leave to sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
This will make a really big batch, enough sauce for 10 people with spaghetti, or two huge dishes of pasta bakes serving 12. I usually put half of it in the freezer for another time.
You can use this sauce as a base for lasagne, baked ziti (or any pasta really), or even baked rice as we love to do in Malta.
Bonus: For a delicious and quick baked rice, simply mix half the above sauce into a large deep baking dish, along with two mugfuls of raw long grain rice, three lightly beaten eggs, half a cup of parmesan and four cups of water. Season with salt and pepper and mix gently with a fork until everything is combined. Sprinkle extra cheese on top and carefully (do not spill!) place the dish into the oven on 350 for about 40-50 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked (test the rice in the middle of the dish). Take out of the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.