This popular dish is a winner for the first night meal on a camping trip. Our easy tasty spaghetti bolognese recipe will provide plenty of sustenance for tired campers after a long day.
Spaghetti bolognese is nearly always our first choice when planning our first-night camping dinner.
After a long journey and maybe setting up in challenging conditions we need to be able to rely on a quick and easy solution. People are likely to be hungry so being able to turn out a satisfying, tasty and quick meal is crucial.
This meal takes too long to do properly in the campervan and instead it lends itself to be cooked at home first and brought along in the fridge.
The bolognese sauce will keep for a few days if stored properly so if some other option crops up for dinner on night one, it doesn’t matter.
Here is our recipe for an easy, tasty spaghetti bolognese.
- How to make homemade spaghetti bolognese the easy way
- Step by step spaghetti bolognese
- Spaghetti Bolognese as a first night camping dinner
- How to serve spaghetti bolognese
- Spaghetti Bolognese Q&A
How to make homemade spaghetti bolognese the easy way
This recipe is easy but it’s not particularly quick. This is mostly due to the simmering time involved and not the active participation of the cook.
It’s easy because there is little skill involved in making the dish and it doesn’t matter much if you cook parts for longer or leave out a minor ingredient. It’ll still be delicious at the end – it’s not Masterchef after all.
What you are after is something tasty and nutritious after a busy day enjoying the outdoors. Follow our step by step recipe and that’s what you will have.
Some of these ingredients might surprise you like adding milk and using half-beef and half-pork mince, but the end result really works!
- 250g beef mince
- 250g pork mince
- 4 rashers smoked bacon or pancetta (approx 120g)
- Large onion (approx 160g)
- 1 carrot (approx 80g)
- 1 celery stick (approx 80g)
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- Tomato puree
- 100ml milk
Again, if you add a little more or less of this or that it doesn’t make a huge difference overall.
Extra additions you can make include white wine. I don’t add this as my kids spotted me adding it once and then refused to eat it. I haven’t noticed much difference in the flavour with or without wine, so I tend to leave it out.
- Chopping board
- Large knife
- Large cooking pot
- Measuring jug for milk (or roughly guess 100ml by eye if you know a pint is 568ml)
That’s it, easy! Now we’re ready to cook.
Step by step spaghetti bolognese
Get all the ingredients prepped in advance.
First, chop up the vegetables. I tend to cut mine really small to hide them – we have a fussy eater in the house. If you don’t have this problem, dicing is good enough.
Next, chop up the bacon into small pieces. The bacon is there to add a bit of salt and smoky flavour to the spaghetti bolognese.
Last, measure out the milk. Do this now rather than adding by eye later, so that it is on hand when you need it.
Step 1. Heat a little oil in a large cooking pot. Once it’s heated up, add the bacon or pancetta, whatever you are using. Fry the bacon until it starts to crisp up and looks golden.
Step 2. Add the beef and pork mince. Fry this with the bacon until the meat is all cooked through and there is no raw meat left.
Step 3. At this point, add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until they are tender.
Step 4. Add the milk and simmer for 10 minutes. You can walk off and do something else at this point. Keep the pot on low heat, just enough to simmer.
Step 5. After 20 minutes or so, it’s time to add the tomatoes and tomato puree. Stir these in well and bring back to the boil.
Step 6. Once the bolognese is boiling again, turn it straight back down to a simmer and leave it for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure it isn’t sticking at the bottom. If it is sticking, the heat is too high.
After 30 minutes or so, more or less, it doesn’t much matter, turn the heat off and put the lid on. Leave it to rest and cure further until it has cooled.
When sufficiently cooled either put it in the fridge, take some to heat back up for dinner, or separate into two-person portions and pop straight in the freezer. Job done!
What I like about spaghetti bolognese is you can multiply the ingredients and make a mega-batch. I always do this because to me it makes sense.
If I am going to the trouble of creating the dish and all the washing up associated with it, why not make many portions at once and freeze them?
Spaghetti Bolognese as a first night camping dinner
So with our bolognese sauce all ready to go, all that remains is the pasta. I supposed this dish should really be called pasta bolognese as we rarely use spaghetti. This is mostly because penne or fusilli is easier for our kids to eat.
We boil a large pot of water with a chicken stock cube dissolved in it and add 80g of pasta per person. When you’re away in the campervan you are unlikely to have weighing scales at your disposal, I know we don’t, so instead I use handfuls or cupfuls. I know by eye how much we eat as a family of four as I’ve done it so often.
I use a stock cube in the cooking water as it gives the plain pasta just a little more flavour.
In choosing the pasta, we tend to go for wholemeal instead of white pasta. I just substituted the white pasta for wholemeal one day and the kids didn’t notice.
White pasta has been stripped of many of its nutrients and fibre as it is so processed. We find wholemeal pasta has more flavour too.
There was a time when we went through a phase of buying fresh pasta. We have found that dried pasta is hardly any different and has the obvious added benefits of having a long use-by date and is cheaper.
How to serve spaghetti bolognese
We like to serve our spaghetti bolognese in bowls, rather than on a plate as it helps to keep the heat in the meal for longer.
If we have parmesan cheese on hand, we’ll sprinkle some on top of the spaghetti bolognese. Our kids like double cheese – grated cheddar and a sprinkle of parmesan.
It’s unlikely we would have basil if we were camping in the campervan but if we eat this meal at home, I’ll liberally decorate it with basil too.
This recipe makes a not-particularly-salty version of spaghetti bolognese so I would also recommend adding salt and pepper to individual plates that prefer a bit more seasoning (that’s me). Our kids don’t like meals which are too salty and neither is it good for them (or any of us!) so we tend to keep our meals relatively low-salt.
Spaghetti Bolognese Q&A
Q – Why put milk in bolognese sauce?
Good question! I had previously never made a bolognese sauce with milk in until one day I was taught otherwise by a gourmet cook friend of mine.
The answer seems to be two-fold. One – it helps to tenderise the meat and two – it takes the acidic edge off the tomatoes. It also makes the bolognese sauce have a creamier, less dry texture.
Q – Is spaghetti bolognese healthy?
Spaghetti bolognese isn’t the lowest calorie meal option out there but it is a relatively healthy choice.
In terms of calories, the pasta alone in an 80g serving size will be around 265 calories. You can expect a portion of bolognese sauce to have around 306 calories so 565 total calories including the pasta. Add cheese and you can be up nearer 650 calories.
As it is one of your three main meals of the day, that’s not terrible. A pasta dish containing cream, such a carbonara, has a lot more calories.
Q – Wholemeal pasta or white pasta?
In relation to the children, we don’t tend to think in terms of calories anyway, just overall healthy choices and we eat what they eat.
We add healthy alternatives where we can. For example wholewheat pasta over white pasta, low-fat mince, usually 5% only. Half-beef and half-pork mince make for less saturated fat overall. We add plenty of vegetables too so the meal is well balanced, and don’t add too much salt.
None of these substitutes cost the meal anything. It is still extremely tasty and always a popular choice with the kids.
Q – Should you have a lid on when cooking bolognese sauce?
No. I keep the lid off and allow the liquid to evaporate. I will put the lid on once I turn the heat off and allow the sauce to keep its heat a little longer and cure further.
Q – Can you freeze bolognese sauce?
Absolutely you can and I do this all the time. When the sauce has properly cooled I’ll measure out portion sizes – typically 650g for our family of four and freeze in suitable freezer bags. These reusable ones are great for that. If I am doing two-person sizes, I’ll half that amount. It means you can defrost exactly the amount you need, so there’s no waste.
Q – Can you cook spaghetti bolognese from frozen?
I have tried this and I have to say it is always easier to have let the bolognese sauce thaw first. If you have a couple of frozen lumps, no problem to finish them off with the heat.
If you are in the position where you are cooking with a frozen parcel of bolognese sauce though, heat it up on the stove with a very gentle heat underneath. Allow plenty of time for it to cook this way.
You want to have the fully thawed sauce boiling for 5-8 minutes to make sure it is reheated right through.
Looking for more camping meals and food ideas?