Ragu – just like me mum used to make


It was quite strange to find out in my 20s that what I’d eaten all my life as spag bol was really nothing of the sort. It was ragu and it’s supposed to go with wide pasta.

And since I’ve discovered a more authentic version of Bolognese I’d got out of the habit of making the ragu that I’d grown up eating. I can’t recommend the Bolognese highly enough and there’s always a few tubs of it in the freezer, but there’s something about the food the way your mum used to cook it that somehow makes it taste better.

I was given a pasta machine for Christmas and it was playing about making ravioli and tagliatelle which reminded me it had been a couple of years since I’d knocked up a proper ragu.

So here’s my (or rather, mostly my mum’s) spag bol sauce – or ragu if we’re being pedantic about it. It’s rich, herby and smells like nothing else on earth while it’s simmering away.

Although it’s quick to prepare, I allow at least an hour for cooking time so often make a big pot on a weekend to freeze in batches for quick midweek teas.

This is all about building up flavours so start by frying some smoked streaky bacon, pancetta or lardons. When they’re really crispy they come out and into their fat goes a pack of beef mince until its well browned. Again, remove and add finely chopped onion and garlic to the pan.

Fry until translucent and add veg – peppers, courgettes, mushrooms are all good but keep them in biggish chunks so they don’t all break up. Many traditional recipes start with a soffritto, but I personally think that to add carrot or celery would be the work of a madman. Up to you.

I’ll put a lid on this now for five minutes or so to let the veg sweat and give out its flavour to the sauce. Turn up the heat, pour in a glass of red wine and let it bubble away until it’s reduced by about half. Now add the meats back into the pan and stir in a good squeeze of tomato puree.

Add a tin of plum tomatoes (chop them up a bit) and use a jug of beef stock (about 400ml) to swill out any of the tomato juice left in the can. Grind in plenty of black pepper – salt it in about half an hour though once it’s cooked down a bit.

The last ingredient is mixed herbs or herbes de Provence. Put a good pinch in and then grind up another good pinch in the palm of your hand to a fine powder – it makes a mess but it infuses the sauce with great flavour.

Cook with a lid on for about 20mins and uncovered for at least another 40mins until it’s cooked down to a thick, rich, stewy sauce.

Stir through pappardelle, stuff it into ravioli or spoon on top of a pile of spaghetti and call it spag bol. Best served with the rest of the wine you opened and lots of parmesan and ground black pepper.

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Categories: Beef, Leftovers, Pasta and rice, Student


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