Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Sounds unfamiliar? It shouldn't. Spaghetti al Blanco

Do you ever get those moments where you read something and you take it in and act upon it without always getting down to the nitty gritty of it? Occasionally I pretend to teach English and over the years an English teacher becomes practised in the art of 'skimming', where one goes through the words in a 'digesting it for the moment and correcting it' mode before putting the work on the pile and moving on to the next one. I don't mean to sound glib about marking children's work by the way. When it is in my hand, at that time, it has my full, undivided attention, and there are numerous times throughout the year when close reading and marking is essential. It's just when you teach a subject such as English, the sheer volume of wordage means you need to find a way of deciphering text quickly or else that pile of exercise books on the dining room table will never diminish.

Which brings me, in a rather roundabout way, to this recipe which when I skimmed it through initially I thought about how fancy it sounded, how much different it seemed to the spaghetti bolognese that Lola and Finn adore and that it was, in a peculiar way, something out of the ordinary that was worth a try. It was only when I was halfway through cooking this that I realised that it was something very familiar indeed; a long forgotten meal from my childhood, savoury mince, and very similar to the mince my mum used to cook and put under a cloud of mashed potato for her cottage pie. I'd been duped by a name. Maybe if I had looked at the recipe like it was an 'A' level essay on a Shakespeare play, I might have realised.

That's not to say that I was disappointed by my realisation. Savoury mince, when done well, is a delight. A hug in a bowl, if you ask me. This recipe does not replicate the school dinner grey slop that used to pass for savoury mince, but something quite unctuous and filling, which clings to ( in this case) pasta most pleasingly. And I would never have thought of putting savoury mince with pasta, but I suppose that is what turns it from the dowdy sounding 'savoury mince' to the sophisticated 'spahetti al blanco'.

This recipe is adapted from Jill Dupleix's recipe in her fabulous book 'Good Cooking'. I recommend all her books, without question. Her recipes are simple, mostly healthy and fresh, and make me feel very happy indeed, like this meal did when I started to eat it.

A note about my weird way of prepping the vegetables for this. If it had been just for me and the kids, I would have left the vegetables chunky, but in Phill we have a hater of the texture and 'intrusive taste' of celery. I think you 'miss' celery if you leave it out because it adds something to the taste, so I hide it by blitzing it in a mini chopper, and because I was lazy, I blitzed the other vegetables and the parsley (stalks) too. Don't feel you need to do this; I am mad to do it, frankly.

Lola and Finn gave a massive thumbs up. I made plenty so I have leftovers, which will taste fabulous for being left a day or so for the flavours to intensify. I will probably throw a handful of frozen peas in when I reheat it and serve it with some spuds. Italy to England with a quick change of carbohydrate!

Spaghetti al Blanco, (also known as savoury mince) adapted from Jill Dupleix's 'Good Cooking'.

Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, generously, twice.


2 tbsp olive oil
10g dried mushrooms, rehydrated in about 100ml hot water
2 biggish carrots, peeled and diced
2 sticks of celery, stringed and diced
1 leek, white part, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 tbsp parsley (I used stalks, as I had them left over and I was in a blitzing mood)
2 tsp dried thyme
600g beef mince
350ml strong beef stock (I used two stock cubes)
1 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
grated lemon zest, Parmesan cheese and parsley to garnish


Start by rehydrating your mushrooms. Allow them to steep in the water for about 30 minutes or so.

Add the olive oil to a large frying pan that will take all the ingredients and liquid.

Prepare your vegetables and add them to the pan with the parsley and the thyme. Cook over a moderate heat for about 5 minutes or so.

Add the mince, in batches if necessary, and cook until it is browned. This could take about 10 minutes or so.

Add the stock to the pan and give everything a mix. Around this time your mushrooms will have rehydrated so drain the mushroom water into the meat mixture and chop your mushrooms and then add those to the pan. Season.

Scatter the tablespoon of flour around the top of the mince and then stir it in carefully, trying to avoid creating lumps.

Let the mince cook for between 30 and 40 minutes. The liquid should and will reduce. If it is reducing too quickly and the meat looks dry, be prepared to add a little more water. If you prefer a 'drier' mince, turn the heat up for the last 10 minutes or so of cooking.

When you're happy with the consistency, taste for seasoning. It may, in particular, need more salt.

Serve, combined with a pasta of your choice ( I know the title says spaghetti, but I had some frilly looking stuff that I bought in France that I quite liked the look of) and grate over a little lemon zest, Parmesan and parsley.


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