The first thing you’re going to need is a herb garden. Italian parsley, oregano, thyme, basil if you’re feeling brave, and whatever else strikes your fancy. All this stuff can be grown indoors, or on a sunny porch.

I once heard this famous chef/television cooking show host do this whole spiel on how to eat well without being all gourmet about it. And the more I listened, the more I thought that Michael Smith, ass clown, was not only annoying but a big ol’ food snob. The thing that irked me the most was when he told the audience, all dressed in parkas in the stadium at the Home Show, that if you wanted good dried spices, you should just cut up a bunch of dollar bills and use those. What a boob. We can’t all prance out to the lovingly tended garden at the posh hotel we don’t work at and pick the bloody plants at will, especially in the middle of winter.

Dried spices are not the devil. As the adorable James Barber tells us, “Use what you’ve got.”


Spaghetti Sauce, Bolognese Style

Chop up a couple cloves of garlic finely and heat some olive oil over medium heat in a big pot. A couple of pulls oughta do it. If you feel so inclined, add a chopped onion. (My husband inexplicably hates them, so I omit and add more garlic) Saute the onion (if using) in the oil til its all nice and translucent, stirring only as needed, then throw in the garlic. Don’t let the garlic colour.

Add about a pound of ground beef to the pot, and turn up the heat on the stove a bit, to medium high. Add a couple handfuls of fresh oregano, or a tablespoon full or so of dried. Break the ground beef up with your stirrin’ spoon and keep in moving around the pot, at least at first, til it begins to brown and not stick so much to the bottom. When it is fully browned, add some sliced mushrooms, canned or fresh, whatever you like, and a chopped green or red pepper. Let the veggies just sweat and get moist.

Pour yourself a nice glass of red wine, then add a cup to the pot. Let it just simmer, until the liquid is almost completely absorbed. At this point, stir in a couple tablespoons of tomato paste, and then pour in a large (541 mL) can of chopped tomatoes. Stir it all together.

Now comes the tricky part: seasoning the sauce. I like a bit of dried basil, and a handful of fresh lemon thyme for a nice kick. But dried thyme will do too. I also often add some more dried or fresh oregano at this point. This is not an exact science. Just keep adding a little of what you like, tasting and stirring. Basil, oregano and thyme are my favourites. Some people do rosemary, I find the taste too “soapy”.

Once the sauce is bubbling, turn the heat way way way down to low and cover. Simmer for at least an hour, occasionally opening the lid to stir, taste and correct if necessary.

Towards the end of the hour, usually when all the flavours have melded, I add a couple tablespoons worth of fresh chopped italian parsley. This is really nice stuff, and once instance where i’d say use it rather than the dried stuff. When it feels done, add salt to taste (whoa! not too much!), and grind in a few rounds of fresh pepper. Did I mention you’ll be needing a pepper mill? You’ll never go back.

Same goes for Parmesan cheese – fresh grated is rockin’, and not at all expensive. MMM Spaghetti! Ladle some out on a plate, spoon the sauce over it, and serve with a couple more turns of fresh pepper, grated Parm, and some parsley if you want to be really posh. There’s plenty for two with loads left over.