Bolognese Blunders

It’s about 2PM on a Monday and I’m thinking about what to make for dinner. I get a text from my girlfriend saying that she’s not having the best day at work. I knew there and then that I was going to make a Bolognese with homemade pasta. Pasta is one of my favourite comfort foods and something I can easily eat far too much of. Little did I know how glad I would be once I had finished cooking it. This post isn’t a recipe nor is it a collection of the most beautiful pictures you will ever see. More something to sit down and read, sympathise or laugh at my misfortune just to pass the time. I suppose it’s more of a diary entry, a documentation or reference of how cooking is always full of surprises, and sometimes, not in a good way.

By the time I start making all of this, it’s about 4:30 and I’m running out of light. I still decide to try and take pictures anyway knowing full well that the best pictures need the best light. Blunder number one. Regardless, I snap away while mixing the eggs and flour together, all while the light keeps fading. While I let the pasta dough rest, I tackled preparing the Bolognese sauce. At this point, I shouldn’t have bothered with pictures anymore because the only light source I had was my tiny Aputure light which is great if you need some extra fill light but not the best as a key light (main light source). There was still light outside but it wasn’t really doing anything to light the picture. I stubbornly kept going in the dark (I didn’t want to turn the lights on because the lights I have in my house are horrible for pictures) and chopping up all the ingredients:

Leek, Celery, Tomatoes, Mushrooms… You’re probably thinking that doesn’t sound like the ingredients for a Bolognese at all. You’d be right. I swapped out onions for a leek and celery for garlic because my girlfriend’s dietary needs mean I can’t use onions or garlic. It’s now completely dark outside and as I slice through the last of the tomatoes, I start bringing everything into a big saucepan. You may notice that there aren’t any pictures of that but to be honest, no one needs to see how messy my hob is. First, I heated up the saucepan and added some oil. Too hot, my kitchen gets filled with smoke from the oil and now I have to open windows because my poor little extractor fan can’t handle it. Once the visibility becomes somewhat reasonable, I proceed to browning the meat, searing the leek and celery and then add everything else in. I add in half a tablespoon of Marmite (it brings out the meatiness and richness of the tomatoes, plus if you don’t like the taste of marmite, it that just disappears anyway) to the sauce and let it bubble away to reduce.

Time to start making sheets of pasta. This is where things really start to go wrong.

My dough has rested for long enough now and I start to feed it through my new pasta machine that has been used about four times. I like to feed it through on the widest setting, go down to the next setting, fold it and then put it through the widest setting again a number of times to help work the dough a little bit more. As I crank the handle on about the second repetition of working the dough, the handle of the machine feels significantly heavier so I reverse the dough out of the rollers, crank the handle and it starts to jam. Not good. I have to resort to working and flattening the dough by hand, with a rolling pin. Pasta dough is tough and dense, even when you knead it at the start, you get a real good arm workout. Now, I’m rolling out these sheets of pasta (and still taking pictures) when suddenly, darkness. My light ran out of charge. My fuse is getting short. My poor girlfriend who was already home since the smokey kitchen (and was promised dinner would be ready when she arrived) grabbed the light and plugged in the usb cable to charge it. Thankfully, it still works while charging so that was only a minor setback.

With the dough flattened into wonky looking sheets, I didn’t even want to look at my pasta machine even though I knew there was nothing wrong with the cutter attachment. I resorted to cutting the strips of pasta by hand, with a pizza cutter. First I was freehanding it but then used a rolling pin to help me keep my straight lines. The pizza cutter seems to work better than a sharp knife (I keep my knives very sharp) because instead of dragging through the dough, it rolls a new part of the edge onto an uncut area.

Nothing went wrong after this and I finished cooking everything and plated it up for a final, fairly unflattering and boring shot of the finished product. I was fairly fed up at this point and just wanted the warm comfort that you get from eating the fairly straightforward dish that caused me so much trouble to make.

After the experience (some might say trauma) of having my pasta machine break halfway through, I know I will be saving up for something that’s a little sturdier for future noodle endeavours. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be rolling out pasta by hand ever again. A series of things going wrong is just the way that life but it’s being able to recover from the punches life dishes out and still stand up that’s important.

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