Stop right now! Do not think about that sauce in a jar. Though the company picked a brilliant name, the stuff in a jar is miles away from it’s namesake. Now that we’ve stated that for the record…
Ragù came about as a way to use up tough cuts and leftover scraps of meat. The combination of aromatics, and slow simmered meat in sauce, is a brilliant way to make less desirable scraps into a fine Sunday dinner. It is economical yet none the less showcases the fine flavors of Italian cooking. Ragù is found in many regions of Italy, with Ragù alla Bolognese probably taking the title for being best known internationally. As with any widespread and beloved dish there are as many versions of ragù as there are Italian cooks. Many recipes have been handed down from generation to generation. Many follow a regional twist. And of course many cooks claim that their way is the only way to make an authentic ragù. Because of the wide spread nature of this dish, I’m not sure there is only one way to make an authentic ragù.
People can get pretty opinionated about the correct ingredients for a ragù. In fact there’s an entire school of thought, including Chef Mauro Fabbri of the well regarded Diana in Bologna Italy, who believe that beef is the only type of meat that should be used to make a Ragù alla Bolognese. However many certainly disagree and a wide range of meats are often used to make ragù (Ragù alla Bolognese included). Beef, chicken, pork, duck, goose, lamb, mutton, veal, game, as well as offal, might find their way into a ragù. For example, Chef Scott Conant has a recipe for a goat ragù at his restaurant Scarpeta, and Chef Giada De Laurentiis has a tasty recipe for chicken ragù in one of her cookbooks. However a mixture of beef, pork and veal is fairly common. Feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I would argue that using any and all types of meat really follows the spirit of the original intent behind a ragù. The point was to make something delicious out of the scraps you had and not waste, not to be fussy.
The texture of ragù can vary quite a bit as well, as some recipes call for chopped meat scraps and others call for ground meats. Ragù taste wonderful either way. Flavors can vary quite a bit as well, of course from using different meats, but also from different liquid ingredients. Broth, stock, water, wine, milk, cream, and tomatoes with their juices, all have the potential to make an appearance in a ragù.
I feel the original intent of the ragù was to be a free-form recipe using up what you had on hand. I’m going to share a recipe with you today for a fantastic ragù I’ve made. It’s wonderful as written, but because ragù is so easily adaptable (and intended to be), I’m also going to share one major tip with you to make any variation you make turn out well. So don’t be afraid to use different meats or even change up the liquid you use. The big tip: proportion! Regardless of what type of meat you choose to use the important thing to make the ragù come out right is proportion. You want to use wine and broth and a splash of cream? Great, just don’t add so much liquid that you end up with a runny, runny sauce. And don’t add so little liquid you have no sauce left. Easy right?
Now lets talk about serving. Ragù is traditionally served with tagliatelle, a fresh homemade pasta, that is similar to fettuccine but wider. In Italy a ragù is never served with spaghetti as the sauce falls off the noodle. Ragù certainly can be served with other types of pasta, but it is best to select some type of noodle that can hold the sauce. Pre-made fettuccine is probably the best substitute if you don’t want to make fresh noodles. However fresh noodles are not as hard to make as you might think, though admittedly time consuming.
The one thing I can promise you is that regardless of whether you choose to serve this ragù with store bought or homemade pasta you won’t be disappointed.
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 1 cup chopped carrot
- 1 pound ground italian sausage
- 1 pound ground beef (use at least 85% fat)
- salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
- 1 cup white wine
- 32 oz can of plum tomatoes in juice
- 1. Heat a large pot to medium high heat. Add butter, oil, onion and sauté until onion is translucent.
- 2. Add carrot and sauté until lightly browned.
- 3. Add the pork and ground beef, salt immediately. Brown the meat. Try to break up the meat as little as possible. Add pepper to taste.
- 4. Add the milk and reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the nutmeg and stir gently. Simmer until the milk has evaporated.
- 5. Add the wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated.
- 6. Add the tomatoes and stir to coat the content of the pot. Allow the mixture to simmer very gently uncovered for a minimum of three hours. Stir periodically. Add additional water as needed through out the cooking time to keep the meat from sticking to the pan. While the sauce cooks the fat will separate from the meat. This is ok and in fact when you are ready to serve the fat should be separated.
- 7. To serve toss with cooked pasta and a small amount of butter. Fresh grated cheese makes a wonderful accompaniment to the ragù.
- This dish is usually made with a dry white wine. However if you are used to jared pasta sauce or have tomatoes that are on the more acidic side you may want to use a sweeter white.