Well, here is the first part of my attempt to be back here on a regular basis. I have been really missing the blog, and although I’ve been cooking regularly, I’ve been so busy that most of the food I’ve made has been weird, thrown together meals that I like but would be embarrassed to post. I mean, who wants a recipe for a couple of eggs thrown on a trader joe’s tortilla with some mashed up black beans and pesto? Besides that, I moved to a new apartment in August and to tell the truth, the light in the kitchen is downright crappy and I just can’t get that enthusiastic about trying to take pictures of my food with almost no natural light. Well. Enough of the complaints. I have a plan for getting better light (a supersize mirror to redirect the sunlight down my alley and in my kitchen window, perhaps?) and will hopefully be back here more regularly from now on. Wish me luck. For now, here’s this ragu.
I don’t kid when I say that this is the real stuff. I won’t say it’s the best, because in my mind, there are a lot of wonderful ways to dress a pasta, and it would be a shame to pick just one favorite. I mean, I wouldn’t want to insult all the other sauces that make me stop dead in my tracks, fork in mouth, and let out a little whimper. But here’s the deal. This is the sauce to warm up a winter night. It doesn’t take more than half an hour of active prep, but it tastes like you’ve been slaving over it all day. And it just gets better after a day in the fridge.
Do yourself a favor and use the ragu sparingly with good pasta. It’s the Italian way to barely coat the pasta with sauce, and if the ragu seems too thick as you’re stirring it into your pasta, toss in a spoonful or two of the pasta water to thin it out just a bit. The starch from the pasta water will help the ragu cling to your pasta.
Adapted from Mario Batali
Makes about 5 cups
¼ C extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground pork
(you can get the veal and pork ground together at the butcher)
4 ounces pancetta or slab bacon, run through the medium holes of the butcher’s grinder (or chopped fine in the food processor)
One 6-ounce can of tomato paste
1 C whole milk
1 C white wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Get the meat ready- if you haven’t had the pancetta ground at the butcher, chop it and then give it a few rounds in the food processor until it’s finely chopped.
Place a 6-8 quart heavy bottomed pot over high heat. When the pan is hot, throw in half the meat (veal, pork, and pancetta combined) and let it brown, lowering the temperature as necessary to avoid burning the meat. This will take about ten to fifteen minutes, you need to get all the water out of the meat before it will brown. Resist the urge to move it around too much!
When the first batch of meat has browned remove it to a bowl and drain off any of the extra fat, if there is any. Throw in the second half of the meat and brown that too.
While the meat is browning, chop the vegetables.
After the second batch of meat is brown and you’ve moved it to the bowl, add the olive oil to the pan and then the vegetables, scraping the browned bits up off the bottom of the pan. This should be pretty easy, as the water from the vegetables cooking will help the brown bits release from the bottom of the pan.
Saute the vegetables until translucent and slightly soft, but not brown, about five minutes.
Add the meat back into the pot and then add the tomato paste, milk, wine, and thyme and bring just to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours. When it is done, it will look like this. Don’t expect it to be too liquidy, a proper ragu has just enough liquid to moisten the meat.
Season the ragu with salt and pepper, remove from the heat and let cool. The ragu can be refrigerated for up to two days (I think it’s better on the second day, for sure) and can be frozen for up to one month.
Serve over pasta (fresh is best, but I also love this with a good rigatoni like DeCecco) and garnish with freshly grated parmesan, salt and pepper.
A little tip: If you want to freeze some of the ragu, freeze it in an ice cube tray and once frozen, dump the cubes into a Ziploc freezer bag. That way, you can defrost only as much as you need.