Ragù is one of the most traditional Italian pasta sauces. This is the Tuscan version of the more famous Bolognese sauce. This Tuscan ragù sauce can be found on many Tuscan tables on Sundays when families gather for lunch together.
When I think about Ragù, many things come to my mind:
- Waking up on Sunday morning with the scent of soffritto sizzling in the pot
- The slow, delicate simmering sound
- My mom's lasagne
- Sunday lunch with the family
- Cleaning the plate with bread so that not even a tiny bit of meat sauce would go to waste
- Dipping the bread in the pot because it's so good you can't just stop eating it.
It takes a few ingredients and a few hours to make a perfect authentic ragù. While it's quite easy to do, not many people have the time anymore to cook it so often. That's why when I cook it I always make a big batch and then freeze the portions to have available whenever I crave it.
What is Ragù?
The word Ragù comes from the French Ragout which usually indicates meat stewed for many hours in abundant sauce. In Italy, it then became the classic sauce for pasta.
The original recipe comes from Emilia Romagna with the classic Bolognese and then the recipe circulated in all the Italian regions adapting to the flavors of each family and culture, changing meats and a few other ingredients.
Ragù sauce is most commonly served with fresh pasta like Tagliatelle. Each region has its own traditional uses: In Emilia Romagna, they add Ragù inside Lasagne, in Tuscany we serve it with Tortelli Mugellani or with Pici, in Sicily Arancini are stuffed with Ragù and peas, and so on.
Every region has its own recipe, every family has its own recipe. This is my ragù. My family's ragù. It comes from a traditional recipe but it's adapted to my flavors.
- Onion, Carrots, Celery: The mix of onions, carrots, and celery is a constant base in Italian cooking and it's what enriches the overall flavor. Think about it as concentrated stock. Check this post on how to make Soffritto and freeze it in portions.
- Ground Meat: We usually use half beef and half pork because the fattiness of the pork makes the sauce more flavorful and also the meat remains softer.
- Sausages: Italian sausages are coarser and have a higher percentage of fat. Plus, they have more seasonings than regular sausages.
- Tomato Passata: Passata is the Italian name for tomato purèe. If you cannot find tomato purèe, you can blend regular canned tomatoes.
- Tomato Paste: Tomato Paste is just concentrated tomato sauce, it helps to give more tomato flavor to the ragù without adding more liquid.
- Red Wine: Wine, especially red wine, enhances the flavors of the meat to make the sauce more flavorful.
- Bay Leaves: Dried whole bay leaves give a lot of depth of flavor to the ragù.
- Juniper Berries: These tiny flavorful berries give this ragù an authentic Tuscan flavor. I love to crunch them when I eat the ragù, but if you don't like to eat them whole, you can remove them before serving.
If you don't have all the ingredients available, you can follow the below guidelines for substitutions to still get a fantastic Ragù.
- Soffritto: If you don't have carrots and celery available, you can substitute their quantity with just red onions.
- Ground Meat: Instead of using a mix of pork and beef, you can substitute it for all ground beef.
- Italian Sausages: The use of Italian sausages is totally optional. If you can find good sausages in your supermarket they will be a great addition to the sauce, but most of the time I cannot find them so I don't add any.
- Canned Tomatoes: I mention San Marzano tomatoes because they're the most common in Italy, but you can use any canned tomatoes you can find as long as they're good quality. You can either use whole peeled or buy chopped or even blended tomatoes.
- Tomato Paste: This is also optional. It's great to make the sauce thicker and more tomatoey but if you cannot add it it's also fine.
- Red Wine: Sometimes I use red, sometimes I use white. Both are good so I would not skip the wine. The alcohol completely evaporates but it brings out the flavor of the ingredients.
- Juniper Berries and Bay Leaves: These 2 ingredients are key to making the Tuscan Ragù and it's one of the things that differentiates it from Bolognese sauce. But if you don't have either or both available you can skip them. You'll still make a nice meat sauce.
- Beef Stock: You can use also chicken stock or vegetable stock if you don't have it available.
Instructions with photos
Step 1. In a large pot, add the Soffritto and olive oil. Cook for a few minutes until they start to soften.
Step 2. Add the meat and cook it for a few minutes, mixing it to break the clumps.
Step 3. Add the red wine and let it evaporate for a few minutes.
Step 4. Add the tomato paste and tomato passata. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.
Step 5. Season to taste (do not exaggerate with salt because the sauce is going to reduce), add the bay leaves and juniper berries and simmer half-covered for 2 hours.
Yes, you can make it up to a day in advance and store covered in the fridge. Otherwise, you can transfer the portions into containers of freezer bags and freeze them for up to 3 months.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Thaw overnight in the fridge or for a few minutes in the microwave using the defrost function. Reheat in a small saucepan on the stove for a few minutes. Add some water if it's too dense.
How to serve Tuscan Ragù
Tuscan Ragù goes well with almost any pasta shape. My grandpa used to love it with Rigatoni pasta, I love it the most with Pici pasta. Here are some other traditional recipes you can serve it with:
- Classic Tuscan Lasagna
- Tortelli Mugellani - Tuscan Potato Ravioli
- Pasta al Forno - Classic Pasta Bake
- Tuscan Pici Pasta
You can find step-by-step photos, and tips in the post above.
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Tuscan Ragù Sauce
- ½ cup Red Onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup Carrots, finely chopped
- ½ cup Celery, finely chopped
- 1 lb mixed Pork and Beef ground meat
- 2 Italian Sausages
- 14 oz peeled San Marzano tomatoes , canned
- 1 tablespoon Concentrated Tomato Paste
- ⅓ cup Red Wine
- ½ tablespoon Juniper berries (dried)
- Beef Stock
- 3-4 Bay Leaves
- 2-3 tablespoon EVO Oil
- 1-2 teaspoon Sugar
- Salt, Pepper
- Start making the soffritto by finely chopping the onion, carrot and celery or if you don't want chunks in the sauce, you can use a mixer until they're finely shredded.
- Add 2-3 tablespoon of EVO oil in a large pot and add the soffritto. Turn on the medium heat and cook until they become really soft (do not brown).
- Add the ground meat and the sausages and turn the heat to high and cook until the meat changes color, then add salt and pepper to season the meat. Finally pour the wine and let evaporate the alcohol.
- Purèe the San Marzano tomatoes in a blender, then turn the heat to low and add the pureed tomatoes to the pot. Add enough beef stock to cover all. Add also the concetrated tomato paste and mix.
- Taste and season accordingly; if necessary, add some sugar to break the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Finally, add the bay leaves and the juniper berrier. Mix well with a wooden spoon and cover the pot with the lid. Let it simmer for at least 2 hours stirring every once in a while. If the sauce reduces too much, add some more beef stock.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.