Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Il mio ragù

Spag Bol, meat sauce, Bolognese, sauce bolognaise...there are a few terms to describe the world famous pasta sauce that originated in Bologna, Italy, and there is simply referred to as... ragù. And there must be thousands, if not gazillions, of different recipes out there. I'm pretty sure every Italian household has got one....a ragù recipe from Nonna. And then there is always that one secret ingredient that makes your Nonna's ragù better then anybody else's.

Alas, I'm not Italian. Well, my mom's family passed through Italy from France a few generations back. But I don't have a Nonna that could teach me the secrets and workings of a proper ragù. Yet, I feel like a have a special bond with that sauce. And fond memories when, as a kid in the 80s, my culinary highlight was eating spaghetti with ready-made bolognese sauce from a jar (mmmhh.... that metallic aftertaste) and lots of Kraft's dried Parmesan powder to top it off.

However, once I started to enjoy cooking and discovering fresh ingredients and all...it was time to move on and create my own, home-cooked version of ragù. Boy, what a difference to those jars....I just hope my future grandchildren don't refer to me as their Nonna *shudder*.


Ingredients (makes enough for 8-10, easily halved or eat half/freeze half)
  • 1kg good-quality beef mince
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (use red, yellow, white... whatever you prefer)
  • 4 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 4 small to medium-sized carrots, finely chopped
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp tomato paste
  • 500ml of red wine (you could also use white wine) 
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 4 cans chopped tomatoes (added note: I used canned South Italian plum tomatoes... they're the best)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Method
  1.  Just like for my risotto recipe, you start off by making the soffritto: heat a few tablespoons (about 4-6 for this amount) of olive oil a large, high-sided pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and gently fry for about 10 minutes until everything has softened but hasn't taken on any color yet.
  2. In the meantime, heat another 2-4 tbsp of olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over high heat. Then add the beef mince and fry, stirring occasionally, until browned all over.
  3. Add the mince to the soffritto, along with the garlic and tomato paste, turn up the heat to high and mix everything until well combined (about 1-2 minutes)
  4. Pour in the wine, the rosemary and bay leaves and keep everything cooking and stirring until most of the alcohol has evaporated (you will notice the steam from the pan being less...well... alcohol-laden)
  5. Add the cans of tomatoes, combine everything and bring to a boil. Then turn down the heat and cover the pan. Let it simmer for about 3-4 hours (yes, that long...you'll need only 2-3 hours when using half the amount of ingredients), stirring occasionally, until reduced by about 1/4 to 1/3 and the sauce has thickened considerably
  6. Fish out the rosemary sprigs and bay leaves, season well with salt and pepper and serve with good quality tagliatelle, even fettuccine (in Italy you don't serve ragù with spaghetti), and topped with some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
Buon Appetito! 



Tips for freezing
Let the ragù cool down a bit before ladling it into portion-friendly and freezer-proof tupperware. When you're ready for a quick dinner of ragù and pasta, either defrost it in the fridge while you're at work during the day and then reheat it over medium heat in a pan. Yes, a microwave will do as well. Yes, even without defrosting in the fridge . Although I strongly believe the sauce is suddenly blander and drier when reheated in the microwave.

Tips for adapting
Millions.... MILLIONS I say. But lets work out some basics: you could add pancetta or other bacon to the soffritto. You could use mixed mince or add chicken livers to the mince. Add chopped mushrooms or porcini together with the tomatoe sauce. Then there is that whole using milk or cream thingy of which I'm personally not a fan off... but I guess that's just personal taste. If you want to make your sauce a bit richer and give it a more velvety touch, simply use the monter au beurre (literally: mount with butter) technique: whisk in a few knobs of cold butter at the very end (right after seasoning).








3 comments:

  1. Tips from Nonna:
    I you are lucky enough to be a pork eater, then you must substitute the minced beef with mixed ground beef/pork. It makes a world of difference to the flavour. Also unless you live on an Italian farm, use canned roma tomatoes (the oval ones). They will 99% of the time be better than any tomato in Central Europe or Great Britain, even out of the can. Also try 2 sprigs of fresh oregano instead of rosemary and a couple chili peppers for a north Tuscan flair.

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  2. Thanks luvbeers. I did use canned plum tomatoes from Italy ;-) and I will definitely give the oregano a try next time.

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  3. We must all go to Sicily again someday with the little ones just to make ragu from those fresh tomatoes!

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