When I think about Ragu, 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
- Fresh pasta
- Cleaning the plate with bread so that not even a tiny bit of Ragù 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 it. 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 for whenever I crave it.
The word Ragù may not sound familiar since everywhere this sauce is now called Bolognese but I didn’t want to call this recipe Bolognese sauce because, although it looks the same, the recipe and the ingredients are quite different.
Every region has its own recipe, every family has its own recipe. This is my ragù. It comes from a traditional recipe but it’s adapted to my flavors.
What is Ragu?
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 few other ingredients.
Ragu sauce is most commonly served with fresh pasta like Tagliatelle. Each region has it’s 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.
If you don’t have all the ingredients available, you can follow below guidelines for substitutions to still get a fantastic Ragù.
- Soffritto: The mix of onions, carrots and celery is a constant base in Italian cooking and it’s what enrich the overall flavor. Think about it as concentrated stock. But if you don’t have carrots and celery available, you can substitute their quantity with just red onions.
- 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. But you can sub it for all 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 times 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 the chopped or even blended tomatoes.
- Tomato Paste: This is also optional. It’s great to make the sauce thicker and more tomatoe-y 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 make the Tuscan Ragù and it’s one of the things that differentiates it from Bolognese. But if you don’t have either or both available you can skip them. You’ll still make a nice sauce.
- Beef Stock: You can use also chicken stock or vegetable stock if you don’t have it available.
Check out also these recipes made with this ragu:
You can save time by prepping and freezing the Soffritto (mix of onions, carrots and celery) in small portions. See this post about Soffritto (Mirepoix) for the details.
Tuscan Ragù Sauce
- 50 g (1/2 cup) Red Onion
- 50 g (1/2 cup) Carrots
- 50 g (1/2 cup) Celery
- 500 g (2 cups) mixed Pork and Beef ground meat
- 2 Italian Sausages
- 400 g (14 oz) peeled San Marzano tomatoes canned
- 1 tbsp Concentrated Tomato Paste
- 1/3 cup Red Wine
- 1/2 tbsp Juniper berries (dried)
- Beef Stock
- 3-4 Bay Leaves
- 2-3 tbsp EVO Oil
- 1-2 tsp 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 tbsp 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.