I didn't grow up with pasta or Italian food anywhere near me. All I knew was that there is a country called Italy somewhere in the world and that is about it. In late 90's pizza came to my small town of Amritsar (Punjab, India) and I got to taste. It was an Indianized version to suit the pallet...I loved it.
I came to Australia in 2003, and that was my introduction to Italian food. There was local a pizza shop in the suburb of Footscray, in Melbourne, called "Charlie's Pizza". The shop front had the picture of a stocky guy with jet black quintessential Italian looking mustache painted on his face and also jet black hair with a center parting. I found out later that it was the painting of the guy who actually owned the place “Charlie”. I could have sworn that it was just a made up character until I saw the owner. He looked like he just came from the Italy of 70’s. He wore black pants, white shirt, and polished black shoes. Hair on the head and mustache blacker than the black color and neatly combed.
You could see the red and white table cloths and a wood-fired oven behind the counter. It looked cozy, inviting and very Italian. But it was very expensive for a local shop. Or may be it seemed expensive to me as an overseas student with not much money. I think the pizza was about $14-15 which seemed astronomical. Especially when I had just come from India, I was multiplying every $1 AUD by 50 Indian rupees to understand the cost. And this pizza was about the income of a manual laborer in India for the whole week. I couldn't justify eating it.
After almost 1 year of passing by this shop almost everyday and now being more acclimatized to the Australia currency, my housemate and I decided to go halfsies and ordered a pizza. We hated it! It tasted bland and tasteless. It didn't taste Indian at all. My understanding of Australian currency might have evolved but my palette was still living in India. Anyway, that was that but over the years thankfully I have grown as a person and so has my palette. Since then, I have worked in a pizza shop where I have made pizzas, and as the fate would have it, my partner of last 7 years is the first generation Italian in Australia.
At some stage of my life, my understanding of Italian flavors just came to me. When I make Italian food, things just work in my head like Rain-man. Instinctively it just happens. I don't know why or when it happened but I feel that cooking Italian food is as natural to me as cooking Indian food. May be its me watching lots of Jamie Oliver on lifestyle food when I couldn't find anything else to watch on T.V.
This Bolognese sauce is Italian approved. I say that because when I first went vegan I still wanted to eat delicious food and craved those “meaty textures”. I found this product called @naturli mince which had just launched in Australia and boy did it hit the mark or what. It cooked like meat and it tasted like meat. It was perfect to make Bolognese. And that is what I ate and for next couple of months, every weekend. I even cooked it for my friends who came over, and my in-laws, and I got really good at it. So much so that people were asking me to make trays of this Bolognese sauce so that they can store it in their freezers. I was making this for family birthday parties and mother’s day lunches. People couldn’t believe it was vegan, so it was high praise. This was the birth of my Italian approved ‘OG’ Bolognese sauce.
The base of this recipe is onions, carrots, and fennel. The richness comes from tomatoes, with a subtle hint of oregano, thyme and paprika. Splash of red wine, and the @naturli mince, this sauce is rustic, delicious and moorish. Don't take my word for it, try it. Nostalgia is the word you will be looking for every time you have a bite.
Enough of me talking, let's get cooking.
- 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/3 cup finely chopped Carrots
- 1/3 cup finely chopped fennel (the bulb part)
- 2 cloves garlic (crushed/thinly sliced)
- 2-3 tbsp Olive oil
- ¼ cup Vegan Red wine
- 2 cans chopped Tomatoes
- 1/2 Tsp dried Oregano Leaves
- 1/2 Tsp dried Thyme Leaves
- 1/2 Tsp Sweet Paprika
- 1 pack @naturli mince (crumble it with your hands before using it)
- 1 Tbsp Vegeta / or 3 beef flavored stock cubes*
- Pinch of black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1 Cup water
- Heat up the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot.
- Add garlic and cook for another 1 minute.
- Add carrots, onions, and fennel while stirring occasionally on low heat for 4-5 minutes or until soft.
- Stir in all the dry herbs and paprika, and cook for 15-20 seconds.
- Add wine and cook for another 20-30 seconds.
- Add mince and cook for another 4-5 minutes on medium heat while continuously breaking it with the back of a wooden spoon. There shouldn't be any big lumps of mince.
- Mix in the tomatoes, stock powder, and pinch of black pepper.
- Add water, bring to boil and simmer for 20 minutes. (no need to cover)
- Once the time is up, stir well, taste and adjust salt if needed.
- If sauce is too thick add ¼ cup of water and simmer for another 2-3 minutes.
- Serve with pasta of your choice and garnish with freshly chopped parsley
*Instead of stock powder/cubes, you can replace water with liquid vegetable stock.
** If you can’t find Naturli mince I have got a full veggie based recipe for Bolognese on the blog (few posts ago)