Chill, chat and tapas at Ambiente, Fossgate

I’m going to start by saying that this place was cool, and I mean Nordic style steak house cool with a great buzz, friendly staff and incredible tapas. The only downside; I’d eaten a big breakfast beforehand which I rather regretted on arrival at Ambiente Tapas, as the menu was so extensive that I automatically wanted to sample as much as possible along with copious amounts of red wine. Sadly for me, I had the unfortunate task of choosing which four dishes I was going to order before I  simply burst as a result of over eating. So here goes, my choices are as follows:

Bistec De Arrachera – to translate, this was a long plate of dry rubbed skirt of beef served with roasted onions and chimichurri. I chose this dish simply because, who the hell can go wrong with steak and chimichurri? At £6.95, it was the most expensive of the dishes I ordered and personally I would have liked a slightly larger portion for the price, but the steak was succulent, nicely flavoured and enjoyable as my only meat dish on the line-up.

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Mejillones A La Marinera – AKA, mussels steamed in white wine & garlic cream (the cream was omitted for me for obvious reasons). You can’t go far wrong with a big bowl of mussels when they’re swimming in a delicious broth. Despite the fact that I couldn’t have the cream sauce, the juice left behind at the end was absolutely beautiful. Once I’d munched my way through the meaty mussels, I scooped up every last morsel of the broth – very tasty indeed.

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Aceitunas Gordal – that is Queen Gordal olives for us Anglo-speaking specimens. Were they the best I’ve ever tasted? Nope, but they sure weren’t the worst either. I’d happily order them again. Add some black olives and red peppers to the bowl and Bob’s your uncle.

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Judias Verdes – in other words, green beans pan fried in garlic with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Wow, wow, wow! Don’t be fooled by the fact that this dish sounds healthy as hell, because I really did save the best until last. This concoction just goes to show what can be created with just a few simple ingredients and really justifies why we love the simplistic food of the Mediterranean so much. In fact, I have thought about whipping this dish up at home countless times since as it’s so darn easy. The sweetness of the tomatoes mixed in with the crunch of the pine nuts, hint of garlic and juicy beans married together like a symphony. If someone gave me a mahoosive bowl of this then I would be in heaven. Divine with a capital D, people!

Overall, would I come back to Ambiente Tapas? Hell yeah! I’m only sorry I’d eaten a big breakfast that morning. If you’re in York and love tapas, chill and good wine, there’s only one place to be.

Mambo Italiano at Marzano

With the exception of a gluten, dairy free pizza at Zizzi, I’ve always hated chain Italian restaurants. I’ve paid £15 before for a bowl of pomodoro with no seasoning or flavour in general. Many people are a dab hand at cooking pasta dishes at home, and so the thought of paying over the odds for it at a restaurant disappoints me massively. Although I admit they have probably got a lot better at catering for a gluten and dairy free diet in even the past five years, my negative experiences have meant that I always walk right on by when I see a Bella Italia or Prezzo.

On a recent trip to York, I discovered that the city is literally a haven for foodies. In fact, during the whole five days of being in the historic hub, every restaurant that me and my fella ate at was one that we’d walked past and decided looked good. I even took a picture of each one to ensure that we remembered to check out the menu online. We stumbled across Marzano late one evening when taking a stroll through Fossgate looking for somewhere to enjoy a tipple. With a sign outside that said they could cater for gluten and free diners, we booked a table for the next evening.

We were met with a cosy decor inspired by the sights and sounds of Italia as we entered the restaurant. After ordering a bowl of olives and a nice bottle of Merlot for the table, I got to work quizzing the waitress on the menu choices, to which I was delighted that they could whip me up a traditional Bruschetta for starter and more incredibly, a Linguine Fruit Di Mare for main – for some reason, adding seafood to gluten/dairy free dishes at chain Italians has always proved much harder than pulling teeth from a lion.

The Bruschetta featured a nice mix of marinated and oven roasted tomatoes, basil and fresh rocket, alongside olive oil and salad. The tomatoes were incredibly juicy, flavoursome and the perfect accompaniment to the wine. Simplicity is key here and the whole taste sensation served to remind me of how much I absolutely love tommies!

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Next came the Linguine. On first look, I was a little disappointed that I was served pasta spirals instead of spaghetti, as quite frankly, not only do I enjoy twizzling my spaghetti around my spoon and fork, but also, a Linguine in my opinion should be served with long strands of pasta. Hesitation aside though, I tucked in to probably the best pasta dish I’ve had at a restaurant.

I’m a huge fan of seafood and so the combination of king prawns, clams, mussels and squid, thrown into a pomodoro sauce with white wine and chilli went down very well with me and my belly. The portion sizes were good and for the first time in many years, the thought of eating out once more at Italian restaurants was starting to seep back into my mind.

Although the restaurant was busy on a Friday evening, the waiters didn’t rush us out at full speed – a nice touch as we got to enjoy the meal at a pace we liked in true Mediterranean style.

All in all, would I go back to Marzano? 100% yes! My advice to them would be to stock gluten free spaghetti for such dishes as Linguine and Bolognese, but on the whole, Marzano has restored my faith in Italian restaurants – a feat that is quite incredible for any premises outside of good old Italia.

Fish Friday: Mussels in a creamy paprika sauce with wine & shallots

Easter 2019 marked the third year of mine and my Dad’s ‘mussels and vino’ cook-off. It all started one Good Friday, when of course the long-held tradition is to avoid meat in favour of fish. Sure, battered cod and chips was our common go-to dish for years, but with our new love of mussels and red wine, we decided to make this a yearly tradition.

I have to admit that I’d never ordered anything at a fish mongers until a couple of years ago. I somewhat anxiously headed to the stall at Morrisons unsure of what ‘weights’ I had to specify in order to get a bowl full of mussels that were enough for two people. I was pretty impressed when I came away with a net full at only £3 something.

Our first attempt at cooking a mussel dish went well. We’d copied a recipe that we’d had only a few months prior at a pub, containing bacon, onion and a white wine sauce. This year though, me and my Dad whipped up a bowl full of meaty mussels with a delicious creamy sauce, in what we described as a ‘best ever,’ AKA, in our family that means we’ve hit the next level in the cooking delicious meals category.

If I’m honest, I completely made this recipe up based on a photo I’d seen on Instagram of something similar, but boy was it good! Like me, you have to keep sampling the sauce and adding more ingredients to suit your own taste buds. Whatever you do, make sure you have a nice crusty cob to mop up the sauce and a large glass of vino to wash it down with. Bon Appétit!

 

Ingredients

  • 5 shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Alpro soya cream
  • Paprika
  • Hot chilli powder
  • White wine
  • Salt & pepper
  • Crusty baguette (I used the BFree Demi Baguette)
  • Dairy free butter

 

Method

  • Chop the shallots into quarters and peel the garlic cloves
  • Melt a good dollop of butter in the pan and add the shallots. Fry until soft and golden
  • Add a generous sprinkle of paprika and stir
  • Press the garlic cloves into the mix and stir
  • Add a good glug of white wine and stir
  • Add three quarters of the soya cream to the pan and mix in
  • Add more paprika until the sauce turns a golden colour
  • Add a touch of chilli powder if needed. Add more wine to taste

Pit stop at Tapas Revolution

I know I talk about it a lot, but is there anything on Earth better than taking a short pit stop and propping yourself up at the bar of a little restaurant selling tapas? I love dipping in and out of different dishes, sitting chatting with a glass of vino in hand.

Recently, I was en-route to Digbeth to see a band (a family friend was the guitarist) and I needed a quick bite to eat before hitting Cleary’s Irish Bar. The band weren’t coming on until 11pm and so a full belly would only serve to send me to sleep before a heavy night on the booze.

Despite the fact that Birmingham’s New Street Station turned into a hub of shopping outlets and restaurants way back in 2015 and was renamed Grand Central, I am guilty of doing the typical thing that locals do and never sampling anything more than the prosecco on tap bar and nipping in to Boots. Quite simply, I would run in and out of the station faster than a shark on speed.

I’d read pretty good things about Tapas Revolution on Trip Advisor and due to it being one of the only restaurants in the station to be serving food after 9pm, I decided to sample what was on offer.

The gluten free symbol featured heavily on a lot of the choices. The struggle I had as usual was with dairy free dishes. After a conversation with the helpful waitress, I opted for Paella and Bacalao con Piperrada, roasted cod loin with slow cooked red peppers and olives, all washed down with a jug of sangria (to share obviously).

I’m a massive fan of Paella, especially when squid and prawns are involved, however, this time I would like to give a massive shout out to the chef who decided to combine cod with peppers and olives. Any fans of the traditional fish and chip supper will most likely agree that if you stripped the deep fried batter off this cold water fish, there’s a high chance it would taste dry and bland. Tapas Revolution created a masterpiece that left you wanting more.

The Paella was delicious. Granted, it didn’t compare in quality to the best I’ve ever tasted in Spain, but it filled me up and was fresh. Price wise, we ordered four dishes, olives and sangria and it came to under £40. There were also set menus on offer that were both reasonably priced and provided the opportunity to sample a selection of little dishes, although of course not all gluten free.

Overall, Tapas Revolution really hit the spot when I needed speedy, friendly service and tasty food. Will I go again soon? Perhaps not – I’ll be too busy running in or out of the station. I would though recommend it to people passing by, whether they be shopping, having a little lunch break or meeting someone for a quick business meeting.

Top marks Tapas Revolution!

One Nuclear Hurricane coming up…

My ‘go-to’ bar in Brum town is Gas Street Social. In fact, whenever I say I’m heading into town for a spot of shopping or a few quiet drinks with friends, chances are, I’ll always nip in for a quick ‘Socialite’ or ‘Nuclear Hurricane.’

Unlike many bars where you pay a small fortune for cocktails, the drinks here are genuinely a pleasure to drink, the barmen are friendly and as the bar’s namesake suggests, sociable. They’ll chat to you as they’re whipping up a drink and it actually seems like the sort of place you’d want to work.

Ultimately, my favourite part about Gas Street Social is the layout. The décor is very Scandinavian and rustic and it’s the sort of place where you can sit for hours people watching and enjoying the mellow music on offer.

It’s location in The Mailbox means that it’s situated right next to the canal, where in the summer you can watch boatfuls of stag and hen do parties rowing up and down (badly) on the water. There is nothing fuddy about the place, everyone is welcome and you won’t get kicked out after one drink because they want your table. It’s the perfect spot for socialising.

Despite me being somewhat of a regular at Gas Street, it was only recently that I tested out the food. The kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant and so my friend and I had often admired the delicious smells wafting out into the bar area. The menu is pretty versatile and a good selection of the dishes could be made gluten free. There’s nothing fussy about the food and the chefs pride themselves on sourcing local meat and vegetables which is a nice added touch, as after all, you assume it’s going to be fresh.

I opted for the Sweet and Sticky BBQ Ribs with chips, slaw and corn on the cob. The waitress commented on my good choice of dish when I put my order in and I must admit that I was a bit sceptical, but boy I needn’t have worried. Without a doubt they were the most succulent ribs I’ve ever tasted. The meat simply slid of the bone and the sauce, which the ribs are apparently slow cooked in, was absolutely divine. It’s rare for me to say this, but I could have eaten a whole new plate straight after I’d finished because it was one of those meals you don’t want to end.

There’s a good selection of burgers, steaks, and even traditional British dishes such as gammon and fish finger butties to choose from. The brunch menu offers anything from a Full English, through to sandwiches and buttermilk pancakes – perfect hangover food in my opinion, and there’s a variety of ‘Social Plates,’ ideal for sharing such as scotch eggs, meatballs and chicken wings.

If you’re ever in Birmingham and looking for somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre to chill out with a drink and a slap up meal, then Gas Street Social would be number one on my list. Give it a go, and don’t forget to order the BBQ Ribs!

Taste testing Tapas at Casa Med

One of the best things in life in my opinion is jetting off to a gorgeous city like Barcelona for a short break and pulling up a seat in the sunshine at a little café for tapas and a nice glass of sangria. There’s something about those little dishes of yumminess that automatically relaxes me and makes me feel as content as can be.

It’s pretty rare to find a nice tapas place in England that serves up authentic dishes and I often compare anywhere that I try to Taller de Tapas, a restaurant close to the bustling La Rambla market in Barcelona city centre.

I recently took a trip to a new restaurant in Bromsgrove called Casa Med that focuses solely on preparing food ‘inspired by the dishes of the Mediterranean.’ Set in a cute old building dotted with fairy lights and with Spanish music ringing out from the walls as you walk through the alley and up to the door, you can be forgiven for wanting to book a holiday to a sunny destination upon your return home. Granted, the views are hardly of sunny España, but the food takes some beating.

The menu featured the Gluten Free symbol, and although many dishes still contained dairy, I wasn’t disappointed with the selection on offer for me. In traditional Spanish style, dishes were brought out as soon as they were ready and the table was soon filled with an assortment of colours and flavours to suit even the most dissatisfied of palettes.

I opted for Boquerones, which consisted of anchovy fillets with toasted peppers, lemon juice and parsley with a drizzle of olive oil. I’m not always a massive fan of anchovies due to an unfortunate experience in Greece whereby the chef had mashed the fish in with a tomato based sauce which was simply disgusting, but the ones served here were truly delicious and very fresh.

Next I had one of my personal favourites, Pork Belly, which the menu stated had been marinated in apple juice, fennel and chilli and left to slow roast for 12 hours before being served up with a fennel, thyme, ginger and balsamic glaze. I had four and they were cooked to perfection with the crackling nice and crispy.

I then opted for a Salmon and Green Bean salad, which contained a beautiful dressing of honey, chilli and ginger for a real sweet taste, as well as cute cucumber ribbons for decoration.

Finally, I couldn’t visit a tapas restaurant without ordering the ever delicious Patatas Bravas, AKA crispy fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce. I needed a good dollop of carbs on my plate to accompany the meat and fish so this dish was never really going to fail me.

This gorgeous feast was of course washed down with a jug of Sangria and a Bellini – it was happy hour so it would have been rude not to.

A the end of a wonderful night I came out full to the brim and recommended the place to friends and family. Move the restaurant to a secluded spot in Barcelona and I’ll die happy, but for now the grey cobbled stones of little old England will have to do and Casa Med certainly has one satisfied customer in me.

‘The Best Paella I’ve ever tasted’ and Gluten Free

I’m a huge fan of Paella and if I see it on a menu then 98% of the time I will order it, especially if I spot the gluten free symbol next to it. I have found it especially difficult however to source out a good Paella in England and even more of a task to try and make a traditional one at home that has the flavours that are so common when I eat it in Spain – I don’t know whether they have a special rice that is different to that sold in the UK, or whether they have a top secret ingredient, but it never quite lives up to the same standard as the best Paella I have ever tasted in a little seaside restaurant on El Sardinero Beach in Santander.

This week though, me and my family celebrated my brother’s birthday at a restaurant in Worcester called The Olive Branch. Specialising in traditional Mediterranean cuisine, I was looking forward to sampling the many choices on offer as I had checked out the menu beforehand and saw many delights that could be whipped up as a gluten free option, including a variety of tempting tapas dishes, pastas, seafood and meat options.

We were given the Christmas menu to choose from and I was more than happy to discover that the traditional Paella, which consisted of a nice mix of prawns, chicken, chorizo, mussels, squid, red pepper and green peas with saffron infused rice was indeed both gluten and dairy free. Thankfully, I had another happy ‘free-fromer’ to share my huge dish with and although the Paella serves two, me and my friend still had nearly half left by the time we had finished.

Now I’m quite a harsh judge of Paella as I’ve tasted so many in Spain, but I have to say I think The Olive Branch has catapulted to the top of my list as being the place that serves ‘the best Paella I’ve ever tasted.’ The variety of fresh seafood and meat was a nice touch, the red pepper was bursting with flavour and the rice was absolutely delicious and not at all bland and stodgy as some can be. The portions were huge and my only regret was that I hadn’t skipped the starter so that I had more room for the main meal.

For starter, I opted for Gambas a la plancha which was king prawns in a chimichurri sauce that had been chargrilled with lemon (winner winner chicken dinner) and then even though I was full to the brim, I ended the night with three scoops of sorbet as nice little refresher.

Overall The Olive Branch far exceeded my expectations. If you love Paella or indeed Mediterranean food as much as I do and find yourself in the Worcester area, you simply have to visit this little gem of a bistro. The setting is lovely, there are three floors to the building and a wine bar at the bottom which I would love to check out on my next visit. I can’t wait to taste test the Tapas menu the next time I’m in town as I’ve spotted some of my favourites  on the menu that can be cooked gluten free – pan fried squid, chorizo, king prawns and of course, my favourite Paella.

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Sexy Sandwiches

I don’t know about you, but I find the typical dry ham sandwich with soggy lettuce boring each day at work. In fact, if I had my way each workplace would be kitted out with a mini oven so that each day during my lunch break, I could go into the kitchen and cook up a feast – it would certainly make getting through a long afternoon that much easier. So, when the weekend finally creeps up on me I like to go to town with my sandwiches, and I’m talking about getting out the frying pan, throwing in some peppers and onions and giving it a good old mix up before dolloping on some old fashioned mayo and basil pesto to really get your taste buds tingling. I know that as a nation of sandwich lovers we can often get stuck in our ways when it comes to fillings, but allow me to let you in on my secret ingredients for a killer sandwich and you’ll never want to go back to your old, quick-fix ways again.

Beginning with sandwich filling number one!

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The main ingredient here is basil pesto and a nice crusty cob. Too much of it can ruin any dish, but a fine overlay of it on your meat can really get it fired up. Follow the steps below for a truly delicious combination of herbs, salad and sauces.

Ingredients

  • Meat of your choice (I used ham)
  • Dairy free cheese (I used VioLife Pizza Mozzarella)
  • Yellow pepper
  • 2 cherry tomatoes halved
  • Half red onion
  • Basil pesto (Sacla)
  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Gluten free bread (I used Newburn Bakehouse Artisan loaf)
  • Lettuce
  • Mayonnaise
  • Olive oil

 

  1. Heat up some olive oil in a frying pan and thrown in half a red onion and pepper, turning until the pepper is soft and the onion is getting crispy
  2. Spread a generous tea spoon of basil pesto onto the base of your bread
  3. Add the ham and spoon on another generous helping of pesto, before layering on a teaspoon of mayonnaise
  4. Cover the base with cheese and a sprinkling of chives before putting under the grill and allowing to melt
  5. Once the cheese is done, spoon up the onion and pepper and layer on top
  6. Chop up the cherry tomatoes and place on top of the mix
  7. Finish off with a nice handful of fresh lettuce leaves

Now to wrap, grab and get stuck in with filling number two!

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Here, the quinoa and buckwheat rice really gives the sandwich a crunchy texture. Mixed in with classic, full fat Hellmans mayonnaise and roasted red peppers, you really can’t go wrong with this one. Make sure to fold the pitta in half so that all the ingredients mingle together and don’t worry about getting your hands messy in the process, it adds to the enjoyment.

Ingredients

  • Quinoa and buckwheat rice (I purchased from Waitrose)
  • Meat of your choice (I used gammon)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Red pepper
  • Half red onion
  • Lettuce
  • Gluten free pitta breads
  • Olive oil

1. Cook the rice according to packet instructionHeat up some olive oil and throw in the onion and pepper, cooking until soft

2. Warm the pitta bread up in the microwave for 20 seconds

3. Once the rice is cooked, put it in a bowl and add a tablespoon of mayonnaise before mixing well

4. Add your meat topping and then spoon on the onion and pepper

5. Add a handful of lettuce and then fold the pitta in half before tucking in

Chicken and Bacon Chilli

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This delicious recipe was one that I rustled up after a long day at work one night. It had been a dark, cold Autumn night and I wanted a relatively quick recipe, somewhere between a chilli and stew that would warm me up whilst snuggling up under a blanket.

Yet again I raided my fridge to find a few leftover rashers of bacon and a chicken fillet. Thankfully the other ingredients are staple cupboard items that I knew would partner really well together so I threw them in.

All in all, once I’d fried the ingredients up and left them in the saucepan to simmer, I was sat down to eat within 25 minutes of starting. The addition of rice really filled me up and possibly in the future I would consider using brown rice, as I often think it can add texture to a tomato based recipe.

However, the true beauty of this dish is that you can use up whatever is in your fridge and really enjoy it. I managed to get two very large meals out of this – perfect for freezing and eating on a night when you are in a rush or can’t be bothered to cook.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • Dairy free butter
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 rashers bacon
  • Tin kidney beans
  • 400g plum tomatoes
  • Chicken fillets
  • ½ teaspoon Cadbury cocoa powder
  • Drizzle Worcester sauce
  • Splash BBQ sauce
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • Yellow pepper
  • Half mug of Basmati rice
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Coriander
  • Teaspoon mild chilli powder

 

– Heat a chunk of butter and leave to melt. Next fry the bacon until brown

-Add the chicken and cook until golden

– Cook the onion and peppers and stir until soft. Next add the garlic

-Stir in the cocoa powder, chilli powder, kidney beans and tomatoes

– Add the rice and then the stock and mix well

– Stir in the BBQ sauce and Worcester sauce and mix well

– Season well with salt and pepper

– Bring to the boil and then leave to cook on a low heat for 20 minutes

– Serve with coriander

A not so traditional Spaghetti Bolognese

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There’s one recipe that never fails to be met with lots of ‘mmms’ when it’s placed on the dinner table and that is Spaghetti Bolognaise. It’s easy to make and has all of the ingredients you could wish for; hearty meat, a delicious sauce, a sprinkling of cheese and a messy face when you’ve finishing eating.

Now, if you’ve been to Italy then you will know that as a nation we’ve killed the traditional Bolognese recipe. Not only are we using the wrong pasta – a proper Bolognese is partnered with tagliatelle, but we do inexcusable things like add herbs to our recipe. I will hold my hands up and say, I’m guilty of all of these sins!

However, if like myself you are gluten free and living anywhere but London where there is a huge selection of gluten free goodies, you will know how difficult it is to source tagliatelle. It’s one of those rare delicacies that I stock up on when I come across it, usually in farm shops or strangely enough, service stations. I agree that Bolognese with tagliatelle tastes more delicious, the thickness of the pasta soaks up the mince and juices more, but we will have to go on with what we’ve got and let’s face it, I love basil and oregano so they are thrown in to many of my meals for added flavour.

In my recipe, I’ve missed out on some traditional ingredients such as carrots as unfortunately we ate them all with our Sunday roast. But, with a little love and care, a generous glug of wine and some yummy bacon, I can promise you won’t miss them at all.

Little tip: My family go to special measures to obtain David’s Chilli Oil – it really adds depth and flavour to even the blandest of dishes and is perfect for use in chilli’s, spaghetti and curries.

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Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 400g Steak mince
  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 rashers bacon
  • Sprinkle dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp basil
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 400g tin plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1-2 tsp chilli oil depending on heat (I used David’s Chilli Oil)
  • A good glug of red wine (I just went for it but around 100ml)
  • 1 tsp cooking salt
  • Generous sprinkle of pepper
  • Gluten free spaghetti or tagliatelle
  • Dairy free cheese (I usually use Violife)

 

  • Heat up 1 tsp olive oil in a medium sized saucepan. Chop up the bacon into squares and add to the pan, heating for 10 minutes or until golden
  • Chop up the onion and cook until soft
  • Next, throw in the garlic and rosemary and stir in
  • Add the mince steak and breakdown, stir until browned
  • Add the plum tomatoes, crumble in the beef stock cube and sprinkle in the basil and oregano
  • Add the chilli oil and pour in a good glug of wine
  • Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and adding seasoning as desired
  • Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions
  • Grate a handful of cheese
  • Once the sauce is nice and thick, drain the spaghetti and add the bolognaise on top
  • Sprinkle on the cheese and some basil to finish

Buon Appetito!