Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Enchantment of Ragu

I've yet to make peace with the fact that in Minnesota the lilacs last one week - and it's a glorious week - unless you're allergic! The tulips last two weeks and the snow lasts 5-6 months. But if one must find a positive in the chilly, biting cold and blowing white precipitation - it has to be ragu. In my New York city life, ragu happened once a year. In Minnesota, ragu happens 4 times a year. In the case of ragu - 4 'ragus' trumps one ragu.
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In Lynne Rossetto's Kasper's loving valentine to Italy's Emilia-Romagna's region, The Splendid Table, Rossetto Kasper writes of a furious debate that ensued after one of Italy's premiere gastronomic societies, L'Academia Italiana della Cucina posted an "official ragu sauce from Bologna." Many Bolognese were insulted that they were not consulted. The worth of using milk versus cream raged. Editorials were written about the inclusion of nutmeg. "It shouldn't be there!" versus "Of course it should!"
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I was so enchanted with the notion of restaurants, homes, shops and cafes debating the issue of "an official Bolognese Ragu Sauce" that I included the arguments in my children's play The Bread, The Bracelet and the Dove (set in Bologna). On their own, many of my young performers researched the beginnings of Bolognese Ragu. Brought up in the Midwest, they were astonished to discover that ragu is not... not.... not a tomato sauce. You can use tomatoes (I do) but they are broken down and flavor and color the meat but definitely do not sauce it. The tomatoes enchant but do not smother.
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Whether you use pork or a skirt steak or turkey sausage, milk or cream, add nutmeg or do without, this sauce dares winter to come into the kitchen. On a weekend, I will do a slow-simmering ragu - taking advantage of a free 3-4 hours. During the week, I make this quicker one which takes 75-90 minutes. (I said it was quicker - I didn't say it was quick.)


A ragu consists of chopped meats and sauteed vegetables cooked in a liquid (broth, wine or a combination). After simmering for hours, a little cream or milk would be added stretching yet another pasta dish into a rich, satisfying meal. It may have had humble beginnings but it earns a prize in creativity. It's ingenuous how peasant cooks took meat scraps and fashioned a luxurious meal. Feel free to substitute at will. Use all broth instead of wine. Mix up the meats. The recipe invites creativity, stirs debate and nourishes body and spirit.
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Fettuccine with Ragu Ingredients (adapted from Tastes of Italia) - serves 6
1 pound fettuccine (cooked according to package directions or homemade)
6 ounces dried procini mushrooms
1 cup beef broth or red wine
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 pound Italian turkey sausage - crumbled (or Italian pork sausage or a skirt steak)
1/2 cup dry red wine (or more beef broth if you do not cook with wine)
3 teaspoons tomato paste
1-15 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (2 cups of fresh cherry or grape tomatoes could also be used - slice them in half)
1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
1/3-1/2 cup milk or half-and-half or cream
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for topping


Fettuccine with Ragu Preparation
  1. Soak the mushrooms in beef broth for 30 minutes.
  2. In a large skillet, heat butter on medium heat. Ad the onion and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sausage and brown it (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add the wine, the mushrooms with broth, tomato paste and tomatoes. Mix well. Bring to a boil and then simmer for one hour - stirring occasionally. The tomatoes will break down, and as under an enchantment become one with the meat.
  5. Stir in the milk and nutmeg and simmer for ten minutes.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Serve passing Parmigiano-Reggiano separately.
I cannot tell you how much the idea of Italians contesting the worth of a recipe in the marketplace just tickles my fancy! If you like your recipes spiced with history and folklore, consider The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. The book also enchants and nourishes.

64 comments:

Cooking Gallery said...

This is my favourite pasta...Always a real comfort food to me!

Pegasuslegend said...

During the winter months this is a staple for us. We love the heavy meat sauce on pasta. Yours with Fettuccine looks like I would not be able to walk, you would have to carry me away from the as I would not be able to stop eating this!

ann said...

I feel like I could climb right into that plate and enjoy that fine meal. Delissimo

Torviewtoronto said...

lovely presentation

Christina said...

That is definitely a plate I could cozy up too! I'm looking forward to lilacs too! In the mean time, at least I can fire up a lilac scented Yankee Candle!!!

Mister Meatball said...

This is the kind of dish they coined the term 24/7 for, methinks.

Sorry, ventiquattro/sette.

Juliana said...

Claudia, your pasta dish with ragu sauce looks delicious...mouthwatering :-)

ARLENE said...

It is a testament to how horrible our NY winter has been that I have been eating so much pasta and that I've sauced it with this ragu as well as with various cuts of beef (short ribs, shin beef, sausage). This cold is definitely not good for sticking to Weight Watchers. But it is so delicious.

Choices said...

A delicious meal to warm you on those cold wintery Minnesota days.
It is certainly very comforting!
Smiles.

Jeannie said...

You cook everything from scratch! My boy would approve wholeheartedly! He did the same recently with his pasta dish! Deliciously fresh!

michelangelo in the kitchen said...

This is my kind of pasta! You make the tastiest sauce, Claudia! Porcini mushrooms dried or fresh is my favorite ingredient in sauces and Parmigiano-Reggiano is the only cheese for me! This meal is Italianissimo!!!

Chow and Chatter said...

wow what a sauce and so much fun to learn about Italian cooking from you oh so true blogging unites the world love it hugs

Jen_from_NJ said...

We got even more snow last night just when we could finally see grass after months - definitely ragu weather! I am with you on the milk and nutmeg. I can't wait to give this a try!

Lizzy said...

Oh, boy, the depth of flavor of this must be amazing! Thanks for sharing, Claudia~

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Claudia a good meaty, slowly simmered, fragrant ragu is fantastic served over all kinds of pasta! Our favorite is pappardelle. I wish I made some ragu today as your photos have me salivating for a big dish full! YUM!

kita said...

A classic ragu cannot be beat! I love a sauce heavy in meat and when we met it was love at first tasting. This is the best dish, lol, now hand me a spoon!

Kate @ Diethood.com said...

Oh my, this looks fantastic. I love this delicious comfort food...that ragu is making my mouth water!

Monet said...

I love seeing how passionate people get about food...it was fun learning a bit more about this classic sauce...and after seeing your photographs, I want to make some tonight! Thanks for sharing, my friend. This looks scrumptious. Many blessings to you and yours!

Rosabela said...

I was also surprised when I read last year that an authentic bolognese sauce hardly contains any tomato sauce. Just a bit of tomato paste. I also found it a strange to add milk in the sauce. I later read that it helps with the acidity without altering the taste of the sauce too much, as opposed to cream, which would just make it a cream sauce. Your version sounds fantastic and it looks soooo delicious! I can just eat a bowl of pasta for breakfast! LOL

tasteofbeirut said...

I can imagine Italians very well arguing this hor days and weeks and months! Personally as long as it tastes good...I like your version which includes cream and red wine! Never much liked the milk version.

Miri Leigh said...

This looks so delicious and absolutely perfect for a cold day. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

Beth said...

I never knew the history of ragu, or even that it wasn't a tomato sauce. You've taught me something today!

denise @ bread expectations said...

A lesson, every time I come here :) This blows every pasta with bolognese sauce I have eaten, right out of the water. I can see why old man winter would think twice before entering....

denise @ bread expectations said...

A lesson, every time I come here :) This blows every pasta with bolognese sauce I have eaten, right out of the water. I can see why old man winter would think twice before entering....

denise @ bread expectations said...

A lesson, every time I come here :) This blows every pasta with bolognese sauce I have eaten, right out of the water. I can see why old man winter would think twice before entering....

Wanda..... said...

Another dlicious recipe from you, Claudia...that will go into my favorites file!

Mary said...

What a wonderful sauce. I also love the information you shared with us regarding how it should be made. The weather here is perfect for a good ragu. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Catherine said...

I love Tastes of Italia. It is such a wonderful magazine.
This fettuccine dish sounds marvelous, Claudia!
Blessings,
Catherine

That Girl said...

I can't imagine a ragu without nutmeg!

FOODESSA said...

Italians are quite a bunch. We seem to get insulted a little too easily at times. Can you imagine if they were to find out that I blend veal, pork and firm tofu! Yikes...I'm in big trouble now!
BTW...no one in my family noticed...it'll be our little secret! "Certo che si".

Isn't our culinary journey exciting!

Flavourful wishes,
Claudia

Shanae Branham said...

This looks delicious! Thank you for sharing1

Magic of Spice said...

Perfect! I love that your quick version still pays tribute to the pleasures of this sauce... Absolutely lovely :)

Kim said...

A good ragu makes up one of my favorite all-time meals. Like you, I enjoy ragu just about anyway possible, with nutmeg or without, with milk or cream, etc. One way I have never enjoyed a ragu is with porcini mushrooms, which are my favorite. I will have to keep this recipe and give it a try. It sounds and looks absolutely fabulous!

Reeni said...

You put me in a ragu mood Claudia! Snow is bearing down on us this weekend and I think this is going to be on the menu! So inviting and delicious. Definitely nutmeg for me.

Angela said...

I think I will stay out of that fight! Your sauce looks perfect.

Velva said...

What a beautiful pasta Ragu dish. This looks flavorful, comforting and soul satisfying. Awesome.

Velva

Bridgett said...

Who knew a ragu would have so much debated history but I love it all the same. I am craving a bite!

5 Star Foodie said...

A wonderful looking ragu sauce, love the porcini mushrooms and the sausage here, yum!

A SPICY PERSPECTIVE said...

Claudia, that is a shear plate of heaven. We've have a rough winter too, and dishes like this can really help pull you through some days.

Angie's Recipes said...

That's the beauty of ragu! Could go with almost all types of staple foods!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

LOVE this ragu - and love the fact that you included it in a play - and set it in Bologna. Wish I could see it performed (and taste your ragu.)

lacaffettierarosa said...

I never thought of ragu as a winter dish, although I'll probably avoid it in summer. With a pressure cooker you don't heat your home that much, and it is ready in 40 minutes. I like the way you describe it - perfectly capturing how adaptable it is.

theUngourmet said...

Your Ragu looks so rich and delicious, definitely worth the time it take to make it. I like that you used the turkey sausage in your recipe. :)

Biz said...

There is nothing better than an all day bolognese simmering on your stove all day long!

I have a quick weeknight version that's actually really good!

http://mybizzykitchen.com/2010/05/23/beautiful-saturday-except-for/

Hope you have a great weekend!

Island Vittles said...

I love the passion Italians have about your food -- passion for the old ways -- not figuring out how to make dinner in 5 minutes of less.

This tasty looking ragu is an example of slow food at it`s best! Theresa

angela@spinachtiger said...

Thank you thank you for telling the world the truth about bolognese sauce. It is NOT a tomato sauce. Italian American restaurants have done such a disservice to the wonderful bolognese.

Kim - Liv Life said...

I don't know that I really knew there was much of a difference, but I'll take this version any time! Almost worth having winter!
Talked to my cousin the other night and her husband was out in the front shoveling the driveway before the plow came... such a foreign world to me! She laughed when I asked why he didn't just wait till tomorrow. I get it now....! Spring is coming, hang in there!

Jill Colonna said...

Your ragu looks so good and concentrated in flavours. Bellissimo! I always love your sense of humour, too. Love how you describe the weather ;-)

pigpigscorner said...

This spells comfort food! A good ragu does take a lot of patience!

marcellina said...

I love the sound of The Splendid Table. My father is from Emilia Romagna. I never actually add the cream or milk but love nutmeg!

Kristen said...

Oh Claudia, that looks so delicious. It's perfect food for an endless winter!

Kristen said...

Oh Claudia, that looks so delicious. It's perfect food for an endless winter!

Katie@Cozydelicious said...

This looks fantastic. A good radu and some fresh pasta is one of my most favrite comforting meals.

My Little Space said...

Oh I have heard of ragu so often but have yet give it a try. I definitely will do so one of these days. Hope you're having a wonderful weekend, Claudia. Btw, is it still snowing over your side?
Blessings, Kristy

Alessandra said...

Well, I do mine with tofu, or lentils, or soy mince.... but yes, always slow cooking!!!


ciao
Alessandra

Letizia Golosa said...

Hi Claudia! Thanks for stopping in on my blog! Wow does this ragu looks amazing! Love your recipes! I will try to make the polenta cake soon! Thanks
Letizia

Amy said...

Your Ragu recipe sound absolutely delicious and hearty! Can't wait to try!

I'm hosting the Culinary Smackdown Battle on my blog. This month's theme is COOKIES! (it doesn't have to be a new creation, you can use a previous post on your site too) Would you please join us for the fun? I have some cool prizes waiting too.

Amy
http://utry.it/2011/03/culinary-smackdown-battlecookies.html

Barbara GF said...

I am enchanted by anything that simmers long and slow on the stovetop when winter's bite is brutal outside. Wonderful post, Claudia, and I love how you wove the ragu debate into one of your children's plays. You are so clever and these young minds are blessed to have you as a mentor. Stay warm! And do think spring; it's not that far away.

fromBAtoParis said...

Your students are so lucky to have a teacher like you..You exude enthusiasm !!! and the ragu makes my tummy make all sorts of noises!

whatsfordinneracrossstatelines said...

Love debates such as these, they always interest me. I bet that play was fun. I need to make some ragu this weekend. Sorry next time, I'll make tofu for you! He He
Have a great week.
-Gina-

Dimah said...

This looks absolutely delicious!

sophiesfoodiefiles said...

I love & absolutely adore an excellent home made ragu!! Yours looks just stunning!

MMMMMM,..A well flavoured dish, Claudia!

Greets from Brussels to you!

OysterCulture said...

It is hard to beat a good ragu and I am not stuck on milk or cream, in fact I am all forward a side by side comparison. I hate to tell you but we've had cherry blossoms, lilacs and I just saw a bunch of tulips. I am having the hardest time adjusting to the fact that I see them in February and March.

Table Talk said...

Stick to your ribs good cooking---the best kind of comfort food! Your winters are harsh, that's for sure. Funny though, everyone I have every met from MN seems to be okay with all of the cold and snow; or at least they all have happy attitudes about it!