Spag Bol

My love affair with my favourite dish, a steaming hot bowl of spaghetti bolognese covered with grated parmesan and chopped parsley, began just over sixty years ago and continues to this day. How did this love affair start all those years ago? My memory is hazy about the exact details but sometime in 1961 a gentleman in Maldon who I think might have been Keith Laity quite out of the blue offered me a day trip to Melbourne in the school holidays as he had some business to attend to in the city. How this came about I have no idea now but I jumped at the chance. The idea was that he would drop me in to the city centre for a couple of hours and then pick me up for the journey home. I also suspect that this was after I had started working as a casual night shift operator on the local telephone exchange, my first job, and therefore must have had a little spending money. In those days they used to have a movie theatre below street level in Flinders Street opposite the station where they showed a looping hour long collection of newsreels and cartoons. The idea was that you paid a flat fee and stayed as long as you liked but usually left after you started seeing the same show again. I doubt if this theatre still exists today. I thought this was a real treat and went and watched for an hour or so.

When I had had my fill of cartoons and newsreels I was starting to feel a little hungry and there, close by the cinema in this underground mall was what I considered a real Italian restaurant. I say real because it was lit with beautiful lighting and all the tables were set with white linen tablecloths. Flash as I would say at the time. This shy youth bravely entered the restaurant and a kind matronly lady in a dark dress and white apron escorted me to a table. I suspect she was the one of the proprietors filling in as waitress on a quiet mid-week lunch. I chose spaghetti bolognese at her suggestion because the only Italian dish I knew was spaghetti, the canned kind which was a bit of a treat and a novelty in 50’s Australia. My bowl arrived and it was nothing like the canned variety I was used to. The bowl was piled high with glistening, steaming coils of spaghetti noodles, topped with a tomato coloured meat sauce with a light sprinkling of chopped parsley. My host then offered me freshly grated parmesan cheese which she proceeded to sprinkle over my meal. The smell was heavenly and like nothing I had experienced before. And the taste of herbs and tomatoes saturated my senses as I awkwardly spooned some into my mouth, slurping up the trails of noodles with a sucking motion. My kindly host suggested that there was a more acceptable way of eating this dish and proceeded to instruct me in how to twirl the noodles around my fork by using the spoon as a base. Who would have thought? This memory and lesson has stayed with me to this day and I can almost still see this lady showing me how to do this little noodle trick.

Fast forward five years and I am in the RNZAF, the New Zealand air force, and I have moved off base in Wellington into a shared flat with two other air force guys. One night I knew I would be home alone and needed to cook something for dinner. This is my first attempt at cooking and going through the supermarket looking for inspiration I notice dried spaghetti noodles. I pick up a packet and read the recipe on the back which was of course for spaghetti bolognese. The memory of that lunch in Melbourne comes flooding back and I think, I can do this even though I have never cooked before. I rush around the supermarket getting the ingredients I needed. I follow the recipe exactly and produce a beautiful dish of spaghetti bolognese. That was it, this dish becomes my standard go-to recipe from then on. My two boys were practically raised on spaghetti bolognese although caring for them lead me to branch out and learn other recipes as well.

I was prompted to write this by one of my granddaughters stating that she wanted spaghetti for her seventh birthday dinner out. It is apparently her favourite dish. This girl is on the right track.

P.S. The title of this post is how we commonly refer to this dish in Australia with our predilection for minimising words where we can as if the less time we have our mouths open the less chance of dry dust being blown in or a couple of flies entering our moist cavern. Hence spaghetti bolognese becomes spag bol.

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