The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - FOOD & DRINK -

On a trip to Italy once, my mother in­sisted that one of the flavours she could taste in the dish she was eat­ing wasn’t oregano or basil, but ajwain (carom seeds), which we use a lot of with fish, chicken or veg­eta­bles in the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent. So to this day, in ev­ery ragû or white sauce I make, I chuck in a spar­ing amount of this slightly oregano and anise-flavoured spice, known to have many health ben­e­fits, from cur­ing tummy aches to mak­ing hair shine. This is my go-to sauce to serve with pasta or per­haps even just with some mash. Be­fore a trip away I of­ten put some in the freezer for my daugh­ter, who loves it. And when my Ital­ian au pair re­marked that it was one of the best ragûs she’d tasted; well, I didn’t re­quire any fur­ther ap­proval. Pak­ista­nis have a ten­dency of adding spices to things, and I am not an Ital­ian cook, so this recipe isn’t very au­then­tic – but as I al­ways say, au­then­tic­ity is in your own mind. I do use a tip I picked up from Ital­ian-born cook­ery writer Mar­cella Hazan, which is to add milk to cut through the acid­ity of wine used. Even if you don’t use wine, the milk helps ac­cen­tu­ate the meati­ness of the sauce, and I never leave it out. 3 tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil Knob of but­ter 1 large onion 2 cloves gar­lic, crushed 2 fresh bay leaves ½ tsp ajwain (carom seeds) or ½ tsp dried oregano 300g minced beef 50ml white wine (op­tional) 150ml whole milk 400ml pas­sata or tinned chopped plum toma­toes Heat the oil and but­ter in a heavy based saucepan, once hot; add bay and ajwain then onions and gar­lic and soften for a few min­utes – do not al­low to brown. Add the minced beef and seal. Al­low all the mois­ture to dry. Add wine if us­ing, al­low to evap­o­rate be­fore adding milk. Now add milk. Once the milk has been ab­sorbed, add the toma­toes or pas­sata, bring to a bub­ble, turn down heat, cover the pot lightly. Leave to cook un­til the toma­toes re­duce and the oil rises to the top: about an hour or so. Turn the heat off and al­low to cool be­fore freez­ing or en­joy hot with pasta or mash.

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