Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


Spaghetti Bolognese is boring.

It's the most boring type of pasta, coupled with the most boring type of pasta sauce. 

Boring, boring, boring. Fuck off.

Actually, don't. Because I've been having a lot of thoughts on this subject lately. Sort of.

Doing a dish well

Sometimes it’s very easy to be turned off food and drink because our tastebuds (in fact, all our senses) have previously been exposed to lacklustre, unpleasant or just plain bland examples of it. And sometimes it's very easy to be turned off by ubiquity. You hear about something all the time over several years, and it becomes second nature to dismiss it.

The problem is that ‘a burger’ could mean anything from a Big Mac at McDonalds to the Dead Hippy burger at MeatLiquor, and every degree of quality in between.

Similarly ‘a pint of bitter’ could be a fantastic, hoppy cask ale from Dark Star or Redwillow, or it could be the abomination that is John Smiths Extra Smooth. A 'red wine' could be something cheap and cheerful for cooking out of a box, or a 1938 Lafite Rothschild.

I strongly suspect that the ambiguity issue is particularly noticeable with food that doesn’t have fancy branding or interesting names associated with it - which makes it even harder to distinguish the ordinary from the extraordinary. Many great and classic dishes often suffer this fate, which is a culinary crime, but probably only to be expected.

And that's why you’re not going to get excited when I say ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise’. And why should you?

Not all sauces are created equal
It sounds boring. Perhaps you’ve eaten it hundreds of times. Maybe in the form of bland ready meals, possibly your mum’s cooking when you were a child.

I have to admit, I don't think I've ever chosen it when in an Italian restaurant, because there always seem to be more unusual and interesting dishes on offer.

When I was a child, it was the first thing I ever learned to cook. Frozen mince. Dried pasta. Instant sauce out of a jar... fortunately I've come a long way since then in the culinary skills department, and now have a recipe which has been refined over many years to attain  near-perfection. I know Mrs B-V considers it to be the best Spag Bol ever.

I know that, unfortunately, being able to make the best Spag Bol ever isn’t likely to win me much in the way of kudos or acknowledgement, because it's still just a Spag Bol.

But maybe we're all missing a trick here?

By dismissing Spaghetti and Bolgnese as uniformly boring concepts, we potentially miss out on brilliant examples of the dish. And that's why I make sure I cook this every couple of months.

It's not my radical Full English Breakfast linguine, and it's not meant to be. It's just a very well-known dish, executed very well indeed.

Try it sometime.

Spaghetti Bolognese

If something's worth doing, it's worth doing well!
Ingredients - makes at least enough for four large portions

Lean minced beef, 2 lbs
Pancetta cubes, a good handful
Onions, 2, finely chopped
Garlic, several cloves, smushed
Red peppers, 2, finely chopped
Mushrooms, a handful, finely chopped
Vine tomatoes, several, finely chopped
Red wine
Tomato puree
Worcestershire sauce
Black pepper
Olive oil

Serve with:

Fresh spaghetti (or other pasta of your choice)
Green pesto
Fresh parmesan


Heat a little olive oil and fry the onion, garlic and pancetta cubes for a few minutes until the onion beings to soften, then add your minced beef, seasoning well with generous quantities of basil, oregano, paprika and black pepper.

When the beef is almost, but not yet completely browned, add the mushrooms, peppers and capers, and a glug of Worcestershire sauce to prevent it drying out.

After a few more minutes of cooking on a high heat, add the tomatoes – some Italian chefs swear by tinned tomatoes for pasta sauces but I find that a mixture of the fresh article and a squeeze of concentrated puree achieves the best results.

Now you can turn down the heat, pour in a big glass of Vino, give it all a good stir, cover and leave to cook for a couple of hours.

That's your sauce (or 'Ragu', but don't confuse it with the brand name of an instant sauce!) pretty much finished. You just need to wait now.
The flavours will develop wonderfully, though you might possibly want to add some more pepper, Worcestershire sauce or wine shortly before serving – let your palette be your guide.

Once the sauce is done – and don’t try to rush things, please – you can cook your pasta in water, toss it in pesto and plate up ready for your delicious sauce.

A sprinkle of parmesan and a twist of black pepper completes the dish.

There is an alternative school of thought that says that the pasta should all be stirred into the sauce and ‘premixed’ before serving. I used to be dead against this approach, but now I find it a refreshing alternative and actually slightly prefer it as it ensures all the spaghetti is nicely coated with meaty, tomatoey goodness.

Naturally there are lots of variations on this dish and you can use any kind of pasta you like – try using gnocchi, fried in butter and tossed in parmesan, with the sauce as the bottom layer and the pasta on top!

If you make your own pasta, then this is a great opportunity to showcase the stuff.

It’s also perfect as the business layer of a classic Lasagne or Cannelloni dish, though you might want to use a little less wine or thicken with flour.

Needless to say, a Barolo, Valpolicella would go nicely with this dish (and indeed would go nicely in it!)

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