Tag Archives: ragu

Hearty lamb ragu

15 Dec

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This dish may look ordinary but it’s actually quite a rarity here in the United States. Of the nearly 220 pounds of meat we consume per capita in a year only about a pound of it is lamb.

Hell, there’s more than that in this one recipe alone. Fifty percent more, in fact.

Lamb is the kind of thing that you actually need to think about when planning a meal for guests. Because many people just don’t eat it.

Ever.

I guarantee you that a good number of readers aren’t even with us anymore, having moved along at the mere mention of lamb in the headline.

Their loss. Because it makes for a pretty swell ragu.

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In a good amount of olive oil brown 1 1/2 pounds of ground lamb in a pot that’s good for making sauce.

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Add in a diced carrot or two, a couple celery stalks, an onion, a couple sliced garlic cloves, and some crushed hot pepper. (There was some fennel in the fridge so I tossed in a little of that too.)

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Add at least a half cup or more of wine (white or red will do, though I used dry vermouth here), turn up the heat to high and allow the wine to evaporate.

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Add one 28-oz. can of tomatoes (I used crushed here but any will do), one cup of chicken stock, 1/2 teaspooon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, some fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir it all up, lower the heat to medium or lower and let things simmer for around an hour and a half. Stir occasionally, of course, and add more stock, or even water, if needed.

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It’ll be enough to feed six lamb eaters.

If you that many.

How to make Genovese sauce

25 Sep

The origin of this sauce is unclear.

Though its name implies a specialty of the port town Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, good luck finding it anywhere near the place. Rather, the onion-based ragu can be gotten in the Campania region of Italy, specifically around the province of Naples.

Don’t ask me why.

Anyhow, my family’s roots just happen to be planted around Naples. And so when the time came to use my newly harvested garden onions to try making this Genovese sauce, I did the sensible thing to seek guidance: I dialed up my Aunt Anna.

“Didn’t I just talk to you a day or two ago?” she asked.

Anna and I speak regularly but not this regularly.

“Yeah, but I forgot to ask you about this sauce I’m in the middle of making.”

“A what?”

“A sauce. I think you used to make it when we were kids.”

After repeating the word sauce four times and spelling it twice, it was clear that my dear aunt and I were getting nowhere together very fast.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Here, tell Frank.”

Cousin Frank is Anna’s son in-law, what with him being married to her daughter Josephine. The two of them just happened to be having lunch with both Anna and Aunt Rita when I called.

“Your aunt isn’t wearing her hearing aid,” Frank said by way of introduction. “I honestly don’t know how you two manage to talk on the phone at all.”

It occurred to me to say that the 300 miles separating my aunt and me doesn’t leave us a lot of options, but I was literally in the middle of getting the ragu started for a dinner party later that same day.

Time was of the essence, as this is the kind of ragu that must be cooked for hours or not at all.

“Just ask her if she used to make a pasta sauce that uses a huge amount of onions, and no tomatoes whatsoever,” I told my cousin. “It’s also got meat in it but the onions are the big thing.”

Dutifully Frank relayed my query, though he too had to repeat himself to be understood.

“She’s shaking her head ‘no’,” Frank told me. “And she’s about the grab the phone from my hand, so goodbye, say hi to ….”

“You’re making a tomato sauce without tomatoes?” Anna cried. “What are you, crazy? Why would you do that?”

“Not tomato sauce, Anna. It’s made with onions and meat and it’s Napoletana so I figured you might know it. I’m making it right now, in fact.”

“You have a recipe?” she asked.

“No, that’s why I called you, to see how you might have made it. I’m just kinda winging it here.”

“You’re singing? I thought you were cooking.”

This is about the time I told Anna that I had to go.

“If it turns out good I’ll give you the recipe. Give my love to Rita. And put in your freaking hearing aid, would you.”

“I love you too” is all I heard before my aunt hung up and was gone.

One day, hopefully many many years from now, I am going to miss these conversations.

Whether they make any sense or not.

Anyhow, these are some of the onions from my garden. I wanted to cook something where they would be a central ingredient, which is how the Genovese ragu came to mind.

Start with a good bit of olive oil and around half a stick of butter.

Once the butter has melted add 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of veal stew meat and brown. Then remove the meat and set aside. (Beef or pork would work fine as well.)

After removing the veal add three finely diced carrots, four diced celery stalks and maybe five chopped garlic cloves (I actually used seven). Sauce until softened.

Then add in the veal.

And then add three pounds of sliced onions.

At this point you’ve got a choice of adding some kind of stock or white wine. I went with around a quart of freshly made chicken stock.

Now add some salt and pepper to taste, incorporate, and cover the pot. Turn the heat to around medium and simmer for a few hours, checking and stirring periodically. The onions will release a lot of moisture, and over time they will completely break down. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add any other liquid at all, but do so if necessary.

This ragu cooked for around four hours. It’s on the thick side, as I believe it should be, but decide for yourself how moist you’d like it. As you can see, the long cooking time didn’t just break down the onion but the veal, too.

As for which pasta to use, aim towards the hearty, not the delicate. I made these mafalde nice and thick and they worked out fine, but something like a rigatoni or paccheri, or even ziti would be perfect.

It turned out pretty well and so I’m going share the recipe with my aunt.

Hopefully she’ll be able to hear me this time.

Just don’t call it Bolognese

25 Apr

There isn’t a tomato in sight here. Those reddish/orangeish spots you see? Carrots. Not tomatoes. Like I said.

Aside from that single omission, what we have here is your basic (and very tasty) Bolognese sauce, or, more properly, ragu.

Except that this isn’t a Bolognese ragu at all. Because a Bolognese must include at least a little bit of tomato. You can call it a Bolognese if it doesn’t have tomato, as many people do. But you—and they—would be wrong to do so.

You want a true Bolognese? Then click right here and I’ll show you one. Otherwise bear with me while we prepare what most people call a “White Bolognese.” Most people, that is, except for the ones in Bologna, Italy, home to the classic ragu. And me, of course.

This is pretty simple stuff. Two large carrots, three celery stalks, a medium-size onion and around 1/4 pound of pancetta, all diced pretty fine.

In a dutch oven slowly brown the pancetta in olive oil at a low heat.

When the pancetta has lightly browned (not too crispy) add the vegetables and 1/2 cup of dry white wine or vermouth and cook at medium to high heat until the wine has evaporated.

Here I’ve finely diced 1 pound of beef (boneless short rib here) and around 1/4 pound of pork (boneless rib). Feel free to use just a pound of beef (even ground), as I was just playing around by adding a little pork. Hell, I’d planned on throwing in a couple chicken livers but forgot that I’d bought them and so they stayed in the fridge. Dammit!

Once the wine evaporates add the meat and allow it to brown lightly.

The add around two cups of homemade stock (I used chicken stock, but only because I didn’t have any beef stock left in the freezer).

As the sauce is simmering (at medium-low heat) keep a small pot filled with a quart of whole milk on extremely low heat. Every 15 minutes or so stir in a little milk until it’s used up. In around two hours the sauce will be done.

Even though I wasn’t making a Bolognese I thought it’d be nice to use one of the brass pasta cutters we picked up in Bologna last year. But you go ahead and use any pasta you like.

This is a shot of the unadulterated end result, but I highly recommend topping the pasta with some Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Oh, and if you’re not in a hurry, prepare the sauce a day in advance, not the day you want to eat it. This is definitely the kind of thing that improves overnight.

No matter what you call it.

Ragu alla Bolognese

14 Dec


Pay attention because this is important: It only looks like a pasta course you have seen me prepare here a couple hundred times before.

But it isn’t. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know such a thing as this existed. I swear.

What you have here is the official, government-sanctioned recipe for Ragu alla Bolognese, commonly referred to as Bolognese Sauce. The recipe was “notarized and deposited” in the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Bologna on October 17th, 1982, by “solemn decree” of the Accademia Italiana della Cucina (the Italian Academy of Cuisine).  

Who knew?

Turns out, not many. My friend Biancamaria is from Bologna and she never heard of any “official” Ragu alla Bolognese recipe. Which is saying something because, as she tells me, “when I was a child every Sunday we had ragu.” 

I didn’t catch up with Bianca on a recent visit to Bologna (she’s living in the English countryside now with Massimo and their daughter Delfina) but on at least four occasions I got to sample authentic Ragu alla Bolognese. And it’s nothing like many of the so-called Bolognese sauces you’ll come across elsewhere. 

For starters, a lot of “Bolognese” sauces are basically tomato sauces that have meat in them. A real Bolognese is a meat sauce that has only a touch of tomato. The earliest examples of Ragu alla Bolognese didn’t include any tomato at all. And forget about using pasta shapes like spaghetti; nobody in Bologna would even think of pairing their ancient ragu with anything but a flat, fresh pasta such as tagliatelle. Just ask for tagliatelle at a restaurant in Bologna and watch what you get. Same thing if you ask only for ragu.

Anyway, and as you no doubt have surmised, I just had to give the “notorized” recipe a shot. I’ve reprinted it in its entirety below, but here is the link as well. Just a note about the ingredients: My quantities are not exactly those shown in the recipe. I have, however, made the necessary adjustments to follow the recipe as closely as possible.



Start out by finely chopping equal amounts of onion, carrot and celery. Here we’ve got just under 3 ounces of each.



Finely dice around 1/2 lb. of pancetta and then brown in a Dutch oven that’s large enough to accommodate all the recipe’s ingredients.



Add the onion, carrot and celery to the browned pancetta and saute until the vegetables are nicely softened.



Okay, about the meat. The recipe calls for ground skirt steak, but skirt wasn’t available and so I went with tender hanger steak instead. Rather than grind the meat I decided to very finely dice it, as I have seen both approaches taken. This is one pound of beef.



Once the vegetables have softened add the beef and allow it to brown.



Then add 1/2 cup of wine (I went with white but red is also approved) and, here’s the tricky part, a small amount of tomato. The recipe calls for either tomato sauce or highly concentrated tomato paste. I made a small quantity of very simple tomato sauce and added around a cup here. I also added a little homemade beef stock, as this is also mentioned in the recipe.



At this point things are supposed to simmer for two hours, at a low flame. But don’t expect to make yourself scarce for these couple hours. Because little by little you’ll need to stir in very small amounts of whole milk, at fairly regular intervals, until you’ve gone through one full cup.



Speaking of milk, an “optional but advisable” addition to the sanctioned recipe is panna di cottura. Basically that means whole milk that has been slowly simmered to half its original volume. That’s around 1 1/3 quarts of milk you see in the pot there. While the sauce was slowly simmering so was the milk, until it was halved. 

After two hours of simmering (and only a slight addition of salt and pepper to taste) this is what the ragu looked like. But we aren’t finished yet.



The next step is to slowly stir in the panna di cottura (the reduced whole milk). Since this step was “advisable” I decided to throw caution to the wind and use up all the milk.

I know, this looks awfully cream sauce-like, doesn’t it. I was nervous too.



But it turns out I didn’t need to be. This was a damned fine ragu that I’ll be working on until it tastes like I’m back in Bologna. 

If that doesn’t work, there’s always Alitalia.

The Official Ragu alla Bolognese
Reprinted from Accademia Italiana della Cucina. 

Ingredients

300 gr. beef cartella (thin skirt)
150 gr. pancetta, dried
50 gr. carrot
50 gr. celery stalk
50 gr. onion
5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 gr. triple tomato extract
1 cup whole milk
Half cup white or red wine, dry and not frizzante
Salt and pepper, to taste.


Procedure

The pancetta, cut into little cubes and chopped with a mezzaluna chopping knife, is melted in a saucepan; the vegetables, once again well chopped with the mezzaluna, are then added and everything is left to stew softly. Next the ground beef is added and is left on the stovetop, while being stirred constantly, until it sputters. The wine and the tomato cut with a little broth are added and everything left to simmer for around two hours, adding little by little the milk and adjusting the salt and black pepper. Optional but advisable is the addition of the panna di cottura of a litre of whole milk at the end of the cooking.

Beef short rib ragu

24 Oct

The furnace has been running lately. So has the living room fireplace.

It’s braising season.

Not a lot of things are better for braising than short ribs. They’re terrific served whole, of course, but I was in the mood for a hearty ragu the other evening, and so that’s the direction I went in.

Nobody complained.

I started out with 3 pounds of beef short ribs. After liberally seasoning the ribs with kosher salt and black pepper I dredged them in all-purpose flour and then tossed them into a dutch oven with plenty of olive oil.

After the ribs have browned on all sides, remove and set aside.

Add one large chopped carrot, two celery stalks, one medium onion, one leek, four garlic cloves, and some thyme. Saute until the vegetables have softened.

Return the ribs to the dutch oven and add one quart of stock (beef here), 2 cups of red wine, and one can of tomatoes. Let the liquid come to a boil, then cover the pot and place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees F.

After around two hours check that the meat is tender. If it isn’t tender continue to cook until it is. Once tender remove from the oven and allow things to cool.

Once cool enough to handle, remove the ribs from the sauce and pick away all the meat from the bones.

All that’s left to do now is add the meat back into the sauce, reheat and serve.

As you can see by the picture up top I served the ragu over polenta the first night. The next night I went with cavatelli.

It feels like winter tonight. I only wish there was still some of the stuff left.

Lamb & chickpea ragu

1 Feb

When a person works very hard, and for many hours, solely to produce a product that will make me happy, well, the least that I can do is cook the poor woman some dinner.

Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend went above and beyond this past Christmas. Way, way, way above and beyond. She showed up at the house one day with a box big enough to accommodate a goose down parka. Except that it was packed with Sicilian fig cookies!

If you know these cookies (cucidati as they are known in Italy) then you appreciate how much work goes into making them. Most people make sure to have plenty of helping hands around on “cucidati day,” but Shy went it alone. Which explains the note that accompanied her extraordinary gift: “I love you Meatball,” it said. “But never again!!!”

And so when my friend came over for dinner the other evening I made certain to prepare a meal that incorporated some of her very favorites: lamb, chickpeas, and homemade pasta.

This is around 1.5 pounds of well-trimmed lamb shoulder, which I’ve cut into cubes and liberally seasoned with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Lightly dredge the seasoned lamb in all-purpose flour.

In a medium size dutch oven sear the lamb in a good amount of olive oil, then remove to a plate and set aside.

Add 1.5 cups of a good quality red wine (I used an inexpensive Nero d’Avola). Turn the heat up to high and reduce until much of the wine has evaporated and what’s left of the liquid is somewhat thickened.

Add 3 tablespoons of butter.

Add 2 chopped celery stalks, 4 chopped carrots, 1 chopped large onion, 6 chopped garlic cloves, and a healthy dose of fresh rosemary and thyme.

After the vegetables have softened stir in 2 or 3 tablespoons of tomato paste.

Then add 4 cups of chicken stock.

Return the lamb to the pot, stir it into the liquid, and simmer slowly, not at a rapid boil.

Around 30 minutes after adding the lamb toss in a (drained) 15-ounce can of chickpeas, and continue to simmer slowly for another hour (making the total simmering time around 90 minutes). Season to taste.

Some people may choose to skip the addition of chickpeas. If you are among those, rest assured that the ragu is just fine without them, and with no furher changes to the recipe.

Personally, I really like having the chickpeas in there. Shy seemed to enjoy them as well. Which, on this particular evening, was all that really mattered to me.

Wonder if it’ll help score me some more fig cookies next Christmas.

Mister Batali’s oxtail ragú

24 Nov

Show of hands. How many of you have ever awoken on a brilliant Sunday morning in the deep of Autumn, obsessed not with love or leisure but with oxtails?

Figures.

This urge of mine arose completely out of the blue, mind you. I had gone to bed harboring no plans whatever of cooking oxtails the next day. The subject had not come up in conversation, and there wasn’t a single oxtail in the freezer crying out to be had at.

Thing is, I listen to the voices inside my head. Always. By 9 a.m. I had spoken to every butcher within 30 miles who was at work on Sunday and well before noontime the oxtails and I were back at the house, safe and sound.

I know. I worry about me too sometimes.

An oxtail ragú recipe in Mario Batali’s “The Babbo Cookbook” is pretty simple and so I went with that. This is about 5 pounds of oxtails, liberally seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Dredge the oxtails in all-purpose flour.

In a Dutch oven sear the meat on both sides in very hot olive oil until golden brown. This will need to be done in a couple of batches, as five pounds won’t fit all at once, not even in my most gigantic (13-quart) Le Creuset.

Remove the meat and set aside. Add two sliced onions and saute until softened but not browned.

Add 4 cups of red wine (I used an inexpensive aglianico), one cup of a simple tomato sauce, 2 cups chicken stock, and fresh thyme. Let this come to a boil, then add the meat, cover and place in an oven preheated to 375 F.  (Note on the tomato sauce: I always have some around. If you don’t, and aren’t in the mood to make some, I’d suggest adding a couple garlic cloves, some herbs and one or two diced carrots when sauteing the onions and then adding canned crushed tomatoes at this stage. I’m sure that’ll work out just fine.)

In about 90 minutes check and see if the meat is nicely softened. If it isn’t just let it cook a little longer. This batch was done in 2 hours, at which point I removed the oxtails from the sauce, allowed them to cool, then picked the meat off the bones.

All that’s left to do now is add the meat back to the sauce and reheat.

That first night I served the ragú over potato gnocchi, which you already saw above. But a couple days later I went with a fresh cavatelli.

The ragú was even better after a couple days. But these things usually are, which is why I’ll normally cook something like this at least a day in advance.

Unless, of course, the voices inside my head command otherwise.

Oxtail Ragú
Recipe
From Mario Batali’s “The Babbo Cookbook

5 lbs oxtail, cut into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
6 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
Flour, for dredging
2 medium onions, sliced 1/4-inch thick
4 cups red wine
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups basic tomato sauce
2 tbs. fresh thyme leaves
Pecorino romano, for grating

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Trim the excess fat from the oxtails and season liberally with salt and pepper.
In a 6- to 8-quart, heavy bottomed casserole or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until it is just smoking. Quickly dredge the oxtails in flour and sear them on all sides until browned, turning with long-handled tongs. Remove the browned oxtail to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the same pan and cook them until slightly browned. Add the wine, stock, tomato sauce and thyme, and bring the mixture to a boil. Return the oxtails to the pot, submerging them in the liquid, and return the pot to a boil. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.
Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the oxtails with long-handled tongs. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and shred into small pieces with a fork.  Discard the bones.
With a small ladle, skim the fat from the surface of the sauce. Return the shredded meat to the pot.  Place over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and allow the sauce to reduce to a very thick ragú. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve over the pasta of your choice, topped with grated Pecorino.