If you have ever had a disappointing ragu – too acidic, bland, no sense of indulgence….- then look no further. This ragu, a recipe I have been using for almost four decades, is seriously good and has the most impressive depth of flavour.
This full-flavoured sauce is sublime eaten with ribbons of pasta and a generous shaving of Parmesan, but it makes the very best lasagne. I adapted it from an old, battered Italian cookery book handed down to me.
I always make a sauce such as this in bulk, portioning the sauce once it has made and freezing some of it. But if you have a lot of people over, this amount will serve about 10 generously.
You can half the recipe below if you prefer, which will give enough sauce for a large lasagne.
Browning the meat or not
The browning of the meat adds a lovely depth of flavour. I find it more effective to put the mince on a tray, flatten it out, and cook in a hot oven until it goes brown, with many gorgeously dark crusty bits here and there.
However, I have made this without browning the meat at all, just adding it once the veg have sweated, and it still gives a rich, luxurious sauce.
Don’t panic about the amount of butter!
It is butter that gives such a beautiful rich creaminess to the sauce, tempering the acidity of the tomato and doing wonders for the overall flavour.
I have made this without butter, using just a little oil, but the version with butter gives a sauce that is in an entirely different league.
There might seem to be a lot of butter, but as this makes a large amount of sauce, each serving will has a relatively small amount of butter.
If you really want to reduce the butter, got for half the amount but then add about 125ml milk.
But seriously, using the butter makes a better sauce!
Recipe: the finest Italian ragu – serves 10 generously
- 250g unsalted butter (yes 250g, but this does serve 10!)
- 150g pancetta or smoked bacon
- 2 large onions, peeled and cut into rough chunks
- 3 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 sticks of celery, trimmed and cut into rough chunks
- the cloves from 1 large bulb of garlic, peeled
- 500g minced beef (about 5% fat)
- 500g minced pork (about 5-10% fat)
- 750ml bottle red wine
- 300g tomato purée
- 1 bag of fresh basil, including stalks, roughly chopped
- fine sea salt
(1) Preheat the oven to 180C (fan).
(2) Place the meat on a baking tray and spread out. Place into the oven on a high shelf for about 40 minutes or until the meat goes very brown all over the surface. Turn the oven down to 110C.
(3) Put the bacon and the vegetables into a food processor and pulse gently for a few moments, just until they break down into very small pieces. Alternatively, chop them very finely.
(4) Melt the butter in a large oven-proof pan or casserole dish and add the chopped bacon and vegetables. Sweat gently for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
(5) Add the browned mince to the pan, scraping the tray to get as many of the crusty bits off of that you can. Add the wine and simmer for about 5-10 minutes or until the liquid has reduced a bit.
(6) Add the tomato purée, the basil and a pinch of salt. Give it all a stir and bring to a gentle simmer.
(7) Put the lid on (or cover with foil) and place in the oven to let it cook very gently for 2 hours. It is now ready to serve and enjoy.