Veal and Pork Ragù with Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Brandy, and a beautiful dish of Pears baked in Red Wine

I’m a bit of a sucker for a bowl of pasta with bolognese sauce any time of the year. Having a supply in the freezer isn’t a bad idea either for those nights when I don’t want to cook, or there are a few extra mouths to feed. It’s easy to make, it just needs time, and I love the aromas from the simmering sauce as it cooks away gently; every now and then being stirred. But every once in a while I want a change from the traditional flavours, so I make this ragù, flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and brandy; it’s interesting how just a few spices can change a dish, giving it a more exotic feel and flavour. We love to eat this with spaghetti, but fregola, or soft polenta is delicious too.

Veal and Pork Ragù with Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Brandy

Serves 6

  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
  • 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 75g butter
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 500g minced veal/pork
  • 250-300g mixed mushrooms, torn into small pieces
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Pinch chilli flakes
  • Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped, canned tomatoes
  • ½ cup brandy
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2.5 cups chicken stock
  • Small bunch parsley, chopped

Melt half the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped vegetables, bay leaves and cinnamon. Gently cook, covered, for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft, but not coloured. Remove the lid, turn up the heat, and add the pork/veal mince. Cook it until it starts to release its juices, breaking it up to prevent it from clumping together, add the mushrooms, and cook until meat and mushrooms start to brown and caramelise. Add a good grating of nutmeg, a decent pinch of chilli flakes, sea salt, pepper, and the tomatoes. After a couple of minutes, pour in the brandy and wine. Stir and scrape up all the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan, and when the wine has reduced a little, pour in 2 cups of stock, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 1.5 hours. Remove the cinnamon, add the remaining ½ cup stock, remaining butter, and chopped parsley. Simmer for 15 - 30 minutes, check seasonings, and serve with pasta, or polenta.

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These pears baked in red wine were one of the first desserts I cooked for my husband. The original recipe is from Elizabeth David’s, French Provincial Cooking, such a classic, and fabulous book. I’ve changed it slightly, but essentially, it’s the same. Again, this recipe just takes time, but there is very little prep. The flavours can be differed by adding extra spices, like cloves, or star anise, or even black peppercorns, but I choose just to add a vanilla bean. The colour of the finished pears is truly incredible and the syrup is extraordinary. Don’t worry if you don’t have any quince paste, it’s not necessary. I just like using it if I have it, because the resulting syrup will be a little thicker, because of the pectin in the paste, and it also adds a little extra ‘je ne sais quoi’. For me, having a dish of these pears in the oven, and the ragù simmering on the stove makes for a pretty fine day in my kitchen, it means I can spend more time on the sofa, snuggled under a rug, reading my book, pretending that there is nothing else to do. Enjoy.

Pears baked in Red Wine

  • 6 firm pears. The variety I use is Beurre Bosc
  • 200g castor sugar
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthways
  • 2tbsp quince paste, optional

Preheat the oven to 150C, and in a casserole large enough for all the pears, bring the sugar, red wine, vanilla bean and quince paste to a simmer.  Peel the pears, leaving the stalks on, and put them into the simmering red wine syrup, covering them with water if necessary. Cover with the lid, and put into the oven for 1 hour. After an hour, turn heat down to 100C, take off lid, and turn the pears over. Replace lid, and bake for another 4 -5 hours, turning pears over every hour. When the pears are tender and very red, take them out and place in a pretty dish. Put the casserole back onto the stove, and over a low heat gently reduce the syrup until it’s a coating consistency: strain through a sieve and drizzle over the pears. Serve with softly whipped cream.