I know I know. Spaghetti Bolognese. Zoe and Mia, couldn’t you come up with a better recipe than that?
Well let me let you on a little secret. This is no ordinary spaghetti bolognese – this is my very own Grandmother’s Chinese inspired spaghetti recipe.
Growing up, the closest experience I had to eating that classic spaghetti bolognese was at Pizza Hut or at a friend’s homes. I absolutely loved twirling my spaghetti noodles around my fork in that deliciously thick meat sauce. It didn’t have the creaminess of an Alfredo sauce (which I also loved), but it definitely didn’t lack any richness or flavor. Somehow I couldn’t get enough of that slow braised meat in tomato sauce, flavored lightly with hints of onion, carrots, celery. Often, it would be served with that powdery, pre-grated parmesan cheese from the plastic container that you find at Walmart. That to me was Italian Spaghetti.
But none of those could ever beat my grandmother’s spaghetti bolognese.
Let’s be honest though.
My grandmother is not Italian. She grew up in rural China. Her parents were wealthy landowners that later lost a lot of their property and money during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1900s. She has never lived anywhere outside of China. In fact, she spent the early years of her marriage in Beijing as a schoolteacher and the rest of her life in Hong Kong. But even then it never stopped her from trying to learn how to cook foreign dishes. My grandmother was an avid learner, she was always open to new things. Most of the best dishes she made was created either by her having tried the dish once or watching it from TV. She was a natural born chef. Her motives for cooking? To make the best dishes for her family especially for her grandchildren that meant the world to her. My grandmother adored us and just like any other Chinese grandparent, she showered us with love by always trying to feed us and whip delicious concoctions that made us squeal with delight. This dish is one of those that always made me feel special. Knowing how much we loved spaghetti, she made this for us all the time.
Although her Spaghetti Bolognese is nowhere near the Classic Italian Bolognese you will find in Italy, but it definitely was something ALL HER grandchildren looked forward too. None of that Italian gourmet food or expensive takeout could ever replace her special spaghetti. Taking influences from Hong Kong Fusion Cooking/Filipino Cuisine and ChiuChow Provinces she created a sweeter, lighter, simpler spaghetti that even my grandfather would enjoy.
I remember spending summers in her home in the island of Cheung Chau where my sisters and I would enjoy the leisures of the countryside. Being away from the main city, we would be able to enjoy what every other kid could enjoy on a daily basis. We would play on the beach, ride bikes, play hide and seek in our grandparent’s 2 stores home, take long walks without having to worry about cars driving past us, play with the dogs – whilst she would concoct some of the best meals I have ever tasted. Every time she would serve her spaghetti bolognese for lunch we were all excited. I would stand behind her in her old, rustic kitchen whilst she steadily “stir-fried” the large batch of spaghetti in that big wok using her chopsticks, as she coated each strand with the tomato meat sauce until everything was throughly mixed.
There was no cheese sprinkled on, no herbs. Just a delicious plate of meat sauce served over noodles. Nothing fancy, just something simple and rustic. Easy to whip up and impressive.
We would gather around a large round family table to share this simple meal. It would be portioned into small porcelain rice bowls and served with a stir-fry of bok choy or mustard greens. For as long as I could remember, I always ate my spaghetti with wooden chopsticks, never once thinking that it wasn’t quite the customary italian way. In a way, it was our Chinese “Italian” family feast. The whole family would devour it. Every strand of the spaghetti would be gone and polished off by the end of the meal.
Even now, I can’t help but reminisce this delicious spaghetti that brings back wonderful memories of my childhood and even memories of her food. Though she never really had the opportunity to travel and taste authentic, gourmet spaghetti, but she managed to recreate something rather unique and quite amazing. My grandmother could not speak a word of Italian let alone much English but her cooking skills were above and beyond.
Zoe and I started feeling nostalgic again so we decided to whip up a batch of this for dinner. Like all Chinese grandmothers, they have no recipes. So we used our memory to recreate this recipe – the ingredients, the flavor and our knowledge of the seasonings she would usually have in her pantry.
You can pair it with linguine. But today to add Sprinkle of Vanilla Sugar’s touch to it we paired this luscious meat sauce with Spaghetti Squash! Yes Squash…and don’t give me that weird look because its actually very very good. Spaghetti Squash has been very popular lately so we decided to try see what was so good about it. And I must say….it tastes delicious! One bite and I was back to those summer days years ago, when we were all slurping them down our noodles with our chopsticks, fighting for the last bit of noodles.
I miss my grandmother a lot. I miss her cooking. Whether or not this is truly authentic, I can’t wait to share OUR healthy twist on our FAMILY’S RECIPE. This is a recipe that was made out of love. I want this recipe to pass on to my children so that they too can feel the love my grandmother had for all her children, grandchildren and future great grandchildren.
- ½ spaghetti squash
- 1 small carrot
- ¼ onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 6 oz minced turkey
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1.5 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp + ¼ tsp GF soy sauce
- 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp water
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Squash - Cut your squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds.
- In a roasting pan (make sure it has edges), lay your squash flesh side down, skin side up. Pour over a little water so that it comes barely covers the bottom of the tray.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes till tender. Take out of the oven.
- Use a fork to scrap so you get beautiful strands of spaghetti squash.
- Sauce - In a hot pan, cook your mince turkey and onions. Keep stirring to break up the turkey.
- After 1-2 minutes, add in your garlic.
- When your turkey has just turned brown, add in your chicken broth, soy sauce, honey, tomato paste.
- When the stock starts boiling, turn it down to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Add your slurry mixture. Allow the cornstarch to mix and cook through for another 1-2 minutes or till thick.
Turkey: Feel free to use minced pork or chicken instead
Paleo: Use Coconut aminos instead of Soy Sauce.
Traditional Method: Traditionally my grandmother would always add in ketchup (we opted for tomato paste and sugar) for extra sweetness. I know it sounds rather odd and probably "blasphemous" in Italian terms but it was all she had on hand. She also always always used minced pork. In Chinese Cooking, beef is not as commonly used as chicken and pork simply because ox/ cows has always been an important resource in farming, thus not seen as a tool and not for consumption.
Also, you're probably wondering - NO CHEESE? YUP! Most of my relatives from rural china have never even heard of or tasted cheese before.
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