Recipe: My Special Ragù, served with pasta and a green salad
This recipe's a special one on many levels.
From a fitness point of view, it's vital that we fuel our bodies with the right nutrition, pre and post workout. When we lift weights, we cause tiny microtears to the muscle fibres that the body works to repair, to help us come back fitter and stronger. To facilitate this process, we require dietary protein. Animal proteins are complete or first class proteins, meaning that they contain all of the essential amino acids that our body's need, but can't synthesise by themselves.
When we workout, we also increase the demand for carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is utilised both as the body's preferred energy source during exercise, but also plays an essential role post workout, in fuelling the recovery process. Carbohydrate, particularly white carbs like pasta, are often vilified by dieters, but they're a great source of energy and play an important role in keeping you feeling satiated. Instead of steering clear, just adjust your portion size depending on how active you've been and how hungry you're feeling. (Still not sure? Get in touch to find out more about one-to-one nutrition coaching).
Exercise aside, when it comes to good nutrition, it's important to keep things balanced and varied. With some animal protein and some pasta, we've got the macronutrients covered. But our body's require a diverse range of vitamins and minerals to keep them functioning optimally. The simplest way to achieve this is to add as much variety to your diet as possible. Spruce things up! Get experimental with flavours and textures and make your plate colourful. In this recipe, you'll be getting goodness from the passata, onions and parsley. You could try adding grated carrot or chopped peppers to the ragu, but serving a dish like this with a side salad is my favourite - and the simplest - way of boosting nutrient intake.
From an ethical and environmental standpoint, it's also important to me that I purchase my ingredients, and especially my animal protein, from a trustworthy source. Swaledale Butchers source their meat from small, heritage-breed farms in the Yorkshire Dales. Using sustainable farming practices ensures the best for the land. Animals are grass-fed and the and the meat is always traceable. Swaledale have a whole-carcass, nose-to-tail philosophy, so that nothing goes to waste. In choosing to eat meat, I recognise the importance of obtaining adequate protein in my diet, but I also prefer to limit my intake and only consume what I feel is of the highest quality and welfare.
Finally, and arguably most importantly, it's got to taste good! Sure, I could have used low fat beef... or cut out the wine... or served it with brown instead of white pasta. But I'd be compromising on flavour. I'm a big advocate for making food that tastes good and food that you can enjoy. When we can appreciate and take time over our food, we eat more mindfully and this is key to avoiding mindless overeating and ultimately to building healthy and sustainable eating behaviours.
Makes 6 servings
Divide up and freeze in individual portions for quick, easy and delicious mid-week dinners.
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small red onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or grated
6 rashers of smoked bacon, or use streaky bacon or pancetta if your beef mince is low fat (less than 10%), chopped
2 tbsp rose harissa paste. I use Belazu
Soy sauce, to taste. The bacon will provide some saltiness, so add additional soy sauce according to taste.
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar or 250ml red wine
2 x 400g cartons tomato passata
Black pepper, to taste
1 small bunch fresh parsley, chopped
Fresh or dried pasta, cooked according to packet instructions
A side salad of mixed leaves. I use rocket, spinach and watercress, dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium-high heat.
Add the chopped onion and sauté for a couple of minutes, until the onion begins to soften. Add a splash of water to the pan if it begins to stick or burn.
Add the crushed garlic and stir for another minute, then add the chopped bacon.
Stir for another couple of minutes, until the bacon is cooked through, then add the beef mince.
Keep the beef mince moving in the pan; you want to brown the meat evenly, so break up any larger pieces using your spoon or spatula.
Once the beef is cooked through, add the harissa paste and cook for further minute.
Add the balsamic vinegar or red wine and cook this in for another minute or two, then add a little soy sauce. Just keep it to a little at this stage, you can always add a bit more later if you'd like it a bit saltier.
Add the tomato passata, swirling a little bit of water round the cartons to make sure you get all the passata out, and adding this to the pan too. Don't worry if it all looks a little watery at this stage, we're going to cook it long and slow, so a lot of the liquid will evaporate.
Bring everything to a simmer, add a little black pepper, then turn the heat to low.
Leave the pan uncovered and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for at least an hour. You're aiming for tender meat and a nice thick, rich consistency, rather than a watery ragù.
Add more soy sauce and black pepper if required. Then once you're happy with the flavour and consistency, remove from the heat and stir in the chopped parsley.
Serve immediately with cooked pasta, parmesan shavings and a green salad. Alternatively, allow to cool and freeze in individual portions, ready to get out of the freezer and speedily defrost for an easy mid-week dinner.