Liver. Anyone else instantly have a childhood recollection of a dry, grey, grainy dinner that tested their gag reflex? As you can probably guess, I am not generally a fan. But I do absolutely LOVE pâté and had therefore thought that at some point, I should give it another try. My friend lent me Jamie Oliver’s Save with Jamie book and as I was idly flicking through, I happened upon his Chicken Liver Bolognese. The premise of the recipe is that the traditional minced meat is substituted for a mixture of chicken livers and lentils, which also fit with a recent lentil obsession of mine. Ignoring my association of liver with a dinner where I’d rather eat my own shoe (sorry Mum but you know I hated it), I thought maybe the addition of vegetables and lentils would save the day. This could be the turning point for my aversion and so, putting all my faith in Mr Oliver, I ploughed on and decided to invite my folks for dinner. I figured that if it all went horribly wrong, at least I would get to repay one of those horrible childhood liver dinners!
One really positive point about this recipe is that – as Jamie promises – it is incredibly cheap. I bought the chicken livers from a local butcher, The Butcher of Brogdale. The pot was huge and contained enough for three lots of the bolognese (or ragu), for just £5. Bargain! The recipe also calls for some basic veg that you are quite likely to have in your fridge, like carrot, onion and mushrooms. You could also improve the nutritional content of the meal (Jamie’s version is approximately 450 calories per serving) by using wholemeal pasta. We switched to wholemeal about a year ago and don’t even think twice about it now.
The ragu preparation is actually really simple. It is essentially a one pot dinner, which is always appealing to me. I have a wok with a lid (which sounds like an inane fact but is actually really important) that I use for loads of hob cooking. It is perfect for reducing a sauce or preparing and then covering a one pot meal, to reheat later. One important point to note about this bolognese is that before it was reduced, there was a LOT of it. The volume surprised me, so make sure you have a suitably sized pot. Also, I left it to reduce for longer than the recipe called for, which is not a problem but something to bear in mind when you are about to cook your pasta. The worst part for me was the 50 shades of brown that the dish journeys through. Let’s just say that – until it is plated – it is not very aesthetically pleasing.
However, after a long simmer and the addition of plenty of herbs, what resulted was actually really yummy. If I’m honest, I didn’t feel it resembled any kind of bolognese I had tasted before, but it was a really tasty sauce. There was a very, very faint metallic taste provided by the iron rich liver. But as I’d hoped, the stock base made it really flavoursome, while the lentils bulked the sauce to make it feel more substantial. Plus I served it with plenty of parmesan cheese for extra seasoning.
The crowd verdict was mixed. 50% absolutely loved it. 50% enjoyed it but wouldn’t hurry to eat it again, including me. My little boy ate it though, so it is child approved. Although I suspect the bread I served with it actually won that vote!
Chicken Liver Bolognese Recipe
- 250g chicken livers
- 1 red onion
- 1 carrot
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 100g button mushrooms (I used chestnut instead of button)
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds (I didn’t have any so I didn’t include this)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- a few sprigs of fresh parsley
- 2 rashers of streaky bacon (I used back bacon instead)
- olive oil (I used rapeseed oil)
- 400g tin of lentils
- 2 tablespoons tomato pureé
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 chicken stock cube (I used some homemade stock)
- 480g dried spaghetti (I used wholemeal)
- parmesan cheese to serve
- Soak the livers in a bowl of water for a few minutes.
- Peel the onion, carrot and garlic, than pulse in a food processor with the mushrooms, rosemary leaves, fennel seeds, chilli and parsley stalks (if using), until finely chopped.
- Finely slice the bacon and put it into a large pan on a medium heat with a good lug of oil.
- Add the pulsed mixture from the processor to the pan and cook for around 15 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally and adding a splash of water to help it along, if needed.
- Drain the chicken livers, then pulse in the food processor until finely chopped.
- Use a spatula to scrape them into the veg pan, then fry and break up for a couple of minutes.
- Drain and add the lentils, followed by the tomato pureé and vinegar.
- Crumble in the stock cube and add 700ml of boiling water.
- Reduce to a low heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes.
- With 15 minutes to go, finely chop the parsley leaves (if using).
- Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions, then drain, reserving a cupful of cooking water.
- Season the sauce to perfection, then tip in the pasta and toss together, loosening with a splash of cooking water, if needed.
- Sprinkle over the chopped parsley, finely grate over a little Parmesan, toss and serve.