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Spuds to Spaghetti

Clara McQuaid tells the story of a food revelation.

My mother rolled her eyes when I told her that, as a child, I used to feel hungry every evening when I finished my dinner. “Not a bit o’ harm it did ye,” she laughed.

“Why do you think we had random things like tinned rice and peaches for dessert” my sister said. “It was to fill the gap after dinner.”


My mum is right; it didn’t do me any harm. In fact, it probably gave me good habits. A friend recently said, “Yes, you are good, you give small portions.” It made me think, “Did she leave my house feeling hungry?”


Now that I have kids of my own and go through the daily grind of ‘what to have for dinner’, I often wonder how my mother survived without pasta. I was a child of the eighties, before the advent of widely used convenience foods, save a tin of baked beans here and there. We were a spud house; everyone I knew was from a spud house. No rice or pasta, just spuds. Specifically, boiled spuds, still in their skins in a bowl in the middle of the table. Everyone pronged their spud of choice onto their fork and held it above a side plate delicately peeling off the skin. That was the carbohydrate part of our meal. Now, there’s a limit to the number of boiled spuds a person will want to eat, regardless of the superior quality of those spuds. My personal limit was one large, maybe stretching to two medium. I remember on occasion rejecting the other components of the dinner and being left to eat the spud with a sprinkling of salt, and nothing else. This happened more than once. Take note, no parent obsessing in the background about my nutritional needs, no raking through the fridge in search of an alternative. There was no Jamie Oliver in the eighties, and as my mother would say, “Not a bit o’ harm…”


The day spaghetti bolognese came into my life was a landmark occasion. It came, it triumphed and it stayed. Oh, those plates piled with spaghetti! The rich, meaty, glistening sauce, the grated cheese on top! The accompanying buttery garlic baguettes that you bought frozen and heated in the oven still in their plastic cover. I was full at last! I don’t recall my exact age when this happened but it was in the early nineties, and I was a teenager. I remember my friends and I cooking up vats of the stuff as we prepared for A-levels. At university, in every shared accommodation I lived in, we ate it. None of my children have turned their nose up at spaghetti bolognese and to this day we usually have it once a week. I have graduated over the years to a more refined version free from jarred sauce, and preferably bubbling gently for two to three hours. However, I can still throw one together happily in twenty minutes.


I must be loyal and add that I still count spuds as one of my favourite foods. Happily I discovered they are hugely versatile. I do rosti, roast, dauphinoise, baked and sautéd, but I must confess that unless they are seasonal waxy new potatoes, I never boil.


2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion
1 clove garlic
500g lean mince
400g tin tomatoes (good quality Italian are preferable)
Rounded tablespoon of tomato puree
Rounded tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Dice the onion finely. Heat the oil on a gentle temperature, add the onion and crushed garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until the onion is translucent and soft. Turn up the heat and add the mince, cook for another 7-10 minutes until the meat is browned all over. Add the tinned tomatoes, fill the empty tin halfway with water, swill out the tin and add to the meat. Simmer until done and serve with spaghetti.


Clara McQuaid is an Irish Muslim who resides in Egypt and writes about food almost as much as she tries out new recipes on her young family.