Ragù: From the French Ragoût or meat stew. This term has been adopted for long-cooked rich sauces, especially in Emilia-Romagna for their Ragù alla Bolognese which often served with tagliatelle.
Tagliatelle al ragù
I don’t know about you, but I like my ragù rich, dense, comfortable and cooked very slowly, a three hour gurgling simmer with an occasional blip of a bubble on the back of the stove. I like it made with half beef, half pork and a little pancetta, with red wine not white. It should be very very discretely tomatoey, so a soft brown colour rather than raging red, it should contain milk added towards the end of the cooking. I like it to cling- to but not overwhelm the pasta, which is usually fresh egg tagliatelle.
That’s how I like ragù.
It’s taken a while, I followed recipes and took advice, much advice – I live in Italy, advice about food is omnipresent and served in abundant portions with seconds especially if you are English. I made a lot of ragù, I ate a lot of ragù and ummed and ahhed and furrowed my brow in a….good but…..I can’t quite put my finger on it…..do you think if I added..….way.
For a while I settled on a very good and authentic Bolognese ragù recipe as my template, nearly nearly we all mumbled approvingly. Then I came across the wise and witty Rowley Leigh’s recipe, which is virtually identical to the one I’d been using (his recipe has clear Bolognese origins) except for a couple of little quirks in ingredients, proportions and style that nudged it towards pretty perfect in my ragù book. His recipe is beautifully balanced; first a trio of fat, oil, butter and the pancetta; then the holy trinity, onion, carrot and celery softened slowly slowly. Now the meat, half beef, half pork, a very discrete quantity of tomato, a flick of nutmeg, red wine, stock, the addition of milk towards the end of the cooking which is long and slow.
Talking of perfect, a word I overuse, I think tagliatelle al ragu is a pretty perfect laid back late autumn/ December supper and a relaxing one too if you make it in the morning for eating that night. The usual suspects arrive – it doesn’t matter if they are early or late as ragù is endlessly patient and accommodating as to when it’s served – you open the wine, Volpolicella maybe, some salami and olives to start while the water for the pasta comes to the boil and you gently re-heat the ragù. If you feel like it, you can make a green salad for after the ragù and before the deep ruby-red poached pears you made a day or two before. Supper, simple and splendid.
As you know, I don’t make pasta. I can, but not well and I find the whole experience quite stressful. I buy it wrapped up neatly in waxed paper from Gatti – pasta all’uovo in Via Branca who make better pasta than I can ever dream of creating at home. I suppose this address isn’t really very helpful if you don’t live in Rome, unless of course you decide to come and visit, in which case we will go together.
I am convinced ragù is better after a rest, the flavours are mellower, gentler and even more comfortable. I generally make ragù in the morning – sometimes the night before – to eat that evening.
Tagliatelle al ragù
Adapted from Rowley Leigh’s ‘No place like Home’
serves 4 – 6
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 25g butter
- 50g pancetta chopped very finely
- 1 medium red onion peeled and finely chopped
- 1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped
- 2 sticks celery peeled and finely chopped
- 200g ground beef (shin or chuck is good)
- 200g ground pork
- 2 tablespoons tomato purèe
- 250ml dry red wine
- 250ml chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- a pinch of nutmeg
- 100ml whole milk
- 500g fresh egg tagliatelle
- freshly grated parmesan
Warm the olive oil and butter in a large heavy based pan (earthenware or enameled cast iron is great) add the minced pancetta and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then.
Add the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery to the pan, stir and allow them to soften over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes.
Turn up the flame and add the ground beef and pork, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper then stir and turn the meat constantly, breaking up the clumps until it is evenly cooked on all sides and it has lost all trace of its red raw colour.
Add the tomato purèe and a grating of nutmeg and mix well before adding the red wine, stock and bay leaf.
Bring the pan to a gentle boil and then turn the heat down so the ragù cooks uncovered at the laziest of simmers with the occasional blip of a bubble for 3 hours.
The ragu will need very little attention at first, a stir every 1o minutes. After 2 1/2 hours the liquid will have reduced and the sauce will be thick, rich and syrupy and so you can add the milk, stir and leave simmering for the final 30 minutes.
Taste and add more salt if necessary.
Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil and gently drop in the tagliatelle and cook until al dente – still firm but not hard in the middle. Drain immediately in a colander, saving a little of the cooking water and then return the pasta to the pan and add the sauce. Working quickly mix and turn the pasta in the sauce and add a little of the cooking water to get a nice creamy coating of sauce on the pasta.
Serve immediately with plenty of freshly grated parmesan
I have not abandoned my chestnut cooking, far from it, we are overwhelmed by the nutty brown things around here and the kitchen is very very sticky from another very chaotic session of chestnut jam making and my adventures in marron glace making. Not sure which part to inflict on you next.