Good things take time, I recall Mariano telling me many years ago.  Mariano was Sardinian, and a chef.  He loved food, and the time spent preparing food.  He used to drive from his home in Rotorua to cook for us in the Waikato.

He’d arrive bearing his prized knives (sharp as a magpie’s eye) and one of those tall white hats that chefs wear.  Then he’d get cracking in our country kitchen.

Sadly, he went to live in another part of the world and so quick visits are out of the question but his passion – and some of his recipes – linger on.  So I sharpen my own knives, roll up my sleeves and prepare meals he used to – although not the one featuring garden snails, although this was delicious and involved a really impressive sauce.

He said 80% of the traditional Sardinian’s day was spent in procuring, preparing and eating food – and they were intensely serious about it.   Just about nothing – to my mind – beats a good pot of spag bog, made the Mariano way.

Mince is absent from this dish, as are tinned tomatoes.  This is made with love and time in the kitchen, preferably while listening to some great Opera.

This is the traditional Bolognese sauce, as made by generations of Italians.  It evokes the temperate climes of northern Italy, especially in this variable spring weather.

It does take a bit of time to chop most of the ingredients but this is a good thing – it prevents one from doing other chores like mowing lawns or mucking out the chicken house.  A sauce this good really deserves its own fresh, home-made pasta, and – if you happen to have a pasta machine – almost nothing is simpler to do.  After years of trial, I have now found what I think is the perfect recipe for pasta dough.  (I made the mistake of following the instructions that came with the machine, which obviously uses a different species of flour altogether.)

Mariano taught us one trick when it comes to pasta – hang it up on a broom handle, suspended between two chairs until you’re ready for it.  It really works.  But do keep the cattle dog out of the kitchen, otherwise, she has a tendency to vacuum up the tempting strands...

Spaghetti Bolognese

  • 500g rump steak
  • 4 bacon slices
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot, peeled
  • 1 red pepper
  • 4 medium-sized mushrooms
  • 1 small chilli, seeded
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • salt, pepper
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme, chopped
  • a handful of parsley, chopped

remove fat from the steak and chop finely.  Heat oil in skillet and brown small amounts of meat quickly, transferring to a bowl.
chop bacon finely and fry quickly.  Add to steak.  Finely dice carrot, pepper, mushrooms and onion.
reheat skillet, gently brown garlic then add onion.  Cook for a few minutes, increase heat and add the carrot, pepper, chilli and mushrooms. 
Season, stir in remaining ingredients and return meat to pan.  Cook for about an hour on low heat until the sauce is reduced.

Perfect pasta

  • 2 cups white flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water

On a clean table make a mound of flour with a crater in the centre.  Break the eggs into this and, using a fork, beat them gently.
Add the oil and water and draw in flour to form a soft dough (adjust water as necessary).  Knead for 10 minutes then form into a ball, cover with a tea towel and leave for half an hour.
Process into spaghetti using a pasta machine.  Failing that, roll and fold repeatedly until the dough forms smooth, firm sheets, then cut into fine strips.
Hang out to dry for half an hour.
Cook in boiling, salted water (adding handfuls of fresh herbs) for about three minutes.
Place pasta on heated plates, spoon sauce over, top with freshly grated parmesan and parsley, and eat.