If my daughter Maya had to name a favourite food, it would be pasta, whether this a quick tea of spaghetti curled around her fork with just a delicious olive oil and some finely grated Pecorino to coat it, or as we had this weekend, a pasta bolognese which had been slow cooked in the Aga for eight hours. Of course, it’s no surprise that children love pasta in all its shapes and sizes, but it’s a wonderful option for adults and people facing illness too – soft, easy to chew and swallow, calorie-rich, and the perfect base for a nutrient-packed and delicious sauce.
The flavours of our weekend bolognese were deep and comforting. I use a combination of beef and lamb mince which, although not traditional, makes the sauce richer. If you cook slowly with herbs such as bay leaves, you'll be amazed how little salt you need to add at the end, especially if you slow-roast the tomatoes before you pop them into the sauce.
It may seem time consuming to slow roast (although you can get on with other things while they bubble in the oven) but it gives the flavours a chance to develop. In the case of tomatoes, roasting increases the levels and effectiveness of an antioxidant called lycopene, which has been linked to reducing the risk of certain cancers including prostate cancer.
I'm going to use the remaining sauce to fill cannelloni tubes and top with a classic béchamel sauce to put into the freezer for another occasion. Unlike the classic Italian dish, I also pop some torn kale and spinach around the filled pasta tubes, as this helps to give a hit of iron and also helps to break up the richness of the final dish.
You may be surprised to learn that I seldom use a wholewheat pasta in these classic pasta dishes, as both Maya and I find that the simple durum wheat pasta is far more delicious. I'd prefer to get our wholewheat fibre boost from the wholegrain breads and leave pasta as its pure white self.
There is, however, one dish I make with wholewheat spaghetti, which combines toasted breadcrumbs, roasted garlic, lots of fresh parsley and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. It's scrumptious and also works well with spelt pasta, which some people find easier to digest than traditional durum wheat, as the gluten within this ancient grain can sit more easily on the gut.