A pasta dish incorporating a rich meat and tomato based sauce would probably have most people thinking straight away of Spaghetti Bolognese. While this is understandable, it is actually the case that pasta sauces can be prepared with virtually any type of meat, any cut of meat and a whole variety of different vegetables and herbs.  Sometimes, all that is required is a little bit of imagination and experimentation. This recipe would work equally well with ground beef, lamb or even turkey, while eggplant (aubergine) is another vegetable which could very successfully be included. 

Conchiglie Pasta with Ground Pork and Mediterranean Vegetables Sauce
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 1 pound ground pork (minced pork, UK)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Generous handful mixed sliced peppers (around ¼ pound)
  • 14 ounce can chopped Italian tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 1 medium zucchini (courgette)
  • 2 cups conchiglie pasta (pasta shells)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped flat leaf parsley
Sauteeing Red Onion
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Sauteeing red onion and garlic in olive oil

Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in to a large pot and bring it up to a medium heat. Peel the red onion and cut it in half down through the middle. Lay each half flat on a chopping board and moderately finely slice across the way. Peel and finely slice the garlic cloves in to discs. Add the red onion and the garlic to the olive oil and saute gently over a medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about a minute or just until the onion starts to soften.

Ground Pork added to Red Onion and Garlic
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Ground pork is added to the sauteed onion

Add the ground pork to the sauteed onions, keeping the heat under the pot at a medium temperature. Use your wooden spoon to break it up and stir it around in to the onions. This will be a bit awkward and messy at first but the pork will soon start to separate and brown evenly. 

Peppers added to Pork
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Sliced peppers are added to browned pork

Add the sliced bell peppers to the sealed pork and onions and stir them through with your spoon. Turn the heat right down and allow to cook gently for two or three minutes, while you prepare the zucchini.

Seeding Zucchini
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Removing the pulp and seeds from a zucchini

It's not absolutely essential to remove the pulp and seeds from the zucchini but this part of the fruit contains a great deal of water which is only going to dilute your finished sauce. Start by cutting off and discarding the top of the zucchini. Cut it in half length ways. Use the tip of a teaspoon to essentially scrape out the soft pulp from each half and discard. Slice each zucchini half across the way to a thickness of about half an inch in to small crescent shapes.

Note: There is still very often debate about whether zucchini have to be salted and left for a time that the salt may draw the bitter moisture from the flesh before they are used in cooking. In most instances, this is no longer necessary as the bitterness has largely been bred out of zucchinis by modern farming techniques. If however you happen to be using an heirloom or heritage zucchini, it would still be a good idea to salt the flesh and leave it for ten to fifteen minutes before it is briefly rinsed under cold water in a colander, patted dry with kitchen paper and used in the recipe. 

Tomatoes and Zucchini added to Sauce
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Tomatoes and zucchini are added to pork

Open the can of tomatoes and pour it in to the pork combination. Add the zucchini pieces at the same time, season with salt and pepper and stir well.

Bringing Sauce to a Simmer
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Sauce is stirred well before being brought to a simmer

Turn the heat up under the pot and bring the sauce to a simmer. The amount of liquid in canned tomatoes will vary so if you do have what appears at least to be an excess, simply leave the pot uncovered during simmering to allow most of it to evaporate. The sauce should be simmered for around twenty minutes but if a little longer is necessary to allow it to thicken that is fine.

Starting to Cook Pasta
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Conchiglie pasta shells are added to salted boiling water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. It is by having plenty of water in the pot that you prevent the pasta from sticking as the starch (which causes the pasta to stick) becomes diluted to a greater extent. The dried conchiglie shells will take ten minutes in the water to cook so add them to the pot when the sauce has been simmering for about ten minutes. Stir once, briefly but well, and reduce the heat under the pot to achieve a moderate simmer.

Drained Conchiglie Pasta
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Cooked and drained conchiglie pasta

When the pasta is done, drain at your sink through a colander or sieve and return it to the empty pot. Allow it a couple of minutes to steam off and dry out. 

Parsley added to Sauce
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Parsley is added to reduced sauce

Chop the parsley and add it to the reduced sauce. Stir the sauce, taste and if necessary adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir well and taste again.

Sauce added to Pasta
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Sauce is poured in to pot with pasta

It is often claimed that pasta should always be added to sauce and never vice versa. I've heard several supposed reasons as to why this should be so but having tried it both ways on a great many occasions, I have not found it to make any noticeable difference whatsoever. The reason why I added the sauce to the pasta in this instance is simply that the pot containing the pasta was bigger and would make spillage less likely as the two items were combined.

Sauce is Stirred through Parsley
Credit: Gordon Hamilton

Sauce is stirred through pasta

The sauce should be stir folded through the pasta with a wooden spoon before the combination is ladled in to bowls for immediate service. A few shavings of Parmesan or similar cheese served on top is optional.