Ragu (Bolognese Sauce)

This is now my favourite Ragu sauce for pasta. It’s not a traditional Bolognese sauce but this is how I like it.
You can do this with beef, or pork, or a mix of pork and beef. I like the mixed pork & beef mince. You can either get pork and beef and grind it yourself or you can buy it ready minced.
I suggest you make a double batch. Have a fresh egg pasta, ideally tagliatelle, with the sauce. Or Gnocchi is good. Bag up a couple for the freezer. Or make a lasagne. A homemade lasagne with fresh homemade pasta sheets is a bit of work, but a joy.
Serve with grated parmesan or a lovely creamy pecorino if you have.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 50-100g of pancetta (it’s even better if you can get proper Italian pancetta)
  • 2 garlic cloves, cut in half lengthwise
  • Bouquet Garni – Sprig of rosemary, Sprig of sage, Couple of fresh bay leaves. Chopped basil stalks can be good too if not too woody and just added to the soffrito.
  • Half bottle of drinkable red wine
  • Tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1kg good fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, then chopped. (Alternatively, I frequently use a couple of tins as the fresh ones are often poor)
  • 500g Minced Beef
  • 500g Minced Pork
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Finely chop the carrots, onion, celery. And the pancetta into matchsticks
  2. Put a decent amount of olive oil in a pot and fry off the carrots, onion, celery, with the garlic cloves in a pot and fry them moderately to make the soffritto. Keep stirring and the aim is to sweat them off but not brown them too much.
  3. Fry the pancetta until slightly crispy and add to the soffritto.
  4. In a separate frying pan brown the mince in some oil. Do it in parts. Grey steamed mince is not what we want. This needs a properly hot pan and the mince needs to brown. A slightly golden colour as the mince ever so slightly crisps is the desired outcome. You can actually hear the change in sound from a hiss to a more crackly sound as the mince begins to caramelise. This is what makes the flavour in your ragu. Put the cooked mince in with the vegetables and repeat until you are done. (Tom Kerridge cooks the mince spread thinly on a baking sheet and in a very hot oven until quite golden, I’ve not tried yet but seems like it could be easier and less smoky in the kitchen.)
  5. Now add the herbs in the bouquet garni to the pot, turn the heat up and add the red wine. Stir and cook it off until almost all of the wine is gone.
  6. Add the tomato paste and the tomatoes and stir it in. Bringing back to a gentle simmer.
  7. Put a lid on it and put it in a medium oven for about 90 minutes. Check it every 30 minutes or so. If it’s too wet and sloppy then leave the lid off so it reduces a bit. Don’t be frightened to give it another 30 minutes if it needs it.
  8. When you take it out the sauce should be rich and thick. If it’s not you can put it on the stovetop and reduce it down, but stand over it, stirring all the time or you will burn it.
I bag it up in single and double portions and freeze it so it’s a source of convenient meals. It’s one of those great discoveries in the freezer when you can’t be bothered doing much cooking and you find a leftover bag of ragu. A quick microwave and a boiling of spaghetti produces a delicious emergency dinner.

Thai Beef Salad

Thai beef salad with medium cooked steak layered on top
Thai Beef Salad

I love this Thai Beef Salad. Fresh lime leaves are essential I’m afraid. They give such an unmistakable zing.

I added some salad leaves and served it with a bowl of jasmine rice. Use whatever salad you prefer or have to hand. You need enough dressing to provide a liquid to blend into the rice. I spooned salad in beside the rice in a bowl and loved the mix of creamy bland rice and strong salad dressing.
I’m very lucky to have custody of my son’s lime leaf plant. I have a cutting developing. It lives outside in summer, but inside at all other times.

Ingredients

Dressing and Marinade (do multiple quantities if you are doing more steaks)

  • 1½ tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

Salad

  • Beef steak as much as you like, sirloin, rib eye, or rump according to preference
  • 200g tomatoes, whatever you like, cherry or cut up larger tomatoes
  • 1 cucumber, halved lengthways, sliced
  • 1 red onion, halved and cut into very thin slices
  • Anything else you fancy – avocado is nice, grated carrot, etc.
  • 2 fresh red chillies, as hot as you prefer, halved and deseeded, thinly sliced lengthways, chop lengths smaller if they are too long
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked, large leaves torn
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked, lightly chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh Thai basil, leaves picked and torn, I just use regular basil if I don’t have Thai basil
  • Some salad leaves, as you prefer
  • 50g toasted peanuts or cashew nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2-4 kaffir lime leaves, centre veins removed, finely shredded

Method

  1. Whisk together lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and palm sugar in a jug.
  2. Place the steak in a suitable dish. Cover with enough of the dressing to marinade in the fridge for a couple of hours. Remember that you must NOT use the marinade dressing in the salad as it has been in contact with the raw meat. You have to discard later.
  3. Prepare your salad vegetables
  4. Toast your cashew or peanuts in a dry frying pan, set aside to cool
  5. Cook your steak as you prefer and let it rest somewhere warm. Be careful of temperature and turning the steak as the marinade has sugar in it. This will make it char to black quite easily on the outside, so some care is required not to burn the outside.
  6. Make up a bowl or tray with the salad leaves and other salad items.
  7. Slice up the steak to thin ribbons and place on top of the salad
  8. Drizzle with the remaining dressing (NOT the marinade) and sprinkle with the nuts
Serve with on its own with some jasmine rice, or as part of a larger Thai meal.

Oxtail Ragu

Beefy oxtail ragu makes a delicious rich sauce for pasta. Serves 4 as a main or 6-8 as a starter. Takes a few hours to cook, but not much time to prepare. Great to make the day before needed and this also makes it easier to remove the layer of fat from the casserole before serving.

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 leek if you have it
  • 2 chopped cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg Oxtail
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig sage with 2 large leaves

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 140C fan
  2. Chop the carrot, onion, celery and leek into a fine dice.
  3. Make a soffrito (Heat the olive oil and add the diced veg and the garlic and sweat them off in a casserole pot till cooked but not browned)
  4. While the soffrito is cooking brown the oxtail pieces in a frying pan with some of the olive oil
  5. Add the browned oxtail to the casserole
  6. Add the herbs and pour in the red wine and bring to a simmer
  7. Put the casserole in the oven and cook for 4-5 hours until there is a rich dark sauce and the oxtail is tender
  8. Once cooked take the casserole from the oven and let it cool enough that the oxtail can be removed to a plate to strip the meat from the bones. Collect the meat in a bowl.
  9. Remove the herb stalks
  10. The casserole of ragu will have a decent layer of fat. Either skim this off with a large spoon and discard. Or, chill the sauce in the fridge overnight and the fat will harden and can be easily removed.
  11. To serve, recombine the pieces of oxtail meat with the ragu in a small pot and heat
Best with a chunky pasta like pappardelle. Serve a portion of pasta in a pasta bowl, spoon over some ragu. Serve with a cheese like pecorino or ossau iraty.
Variant
  • This would also make a lovely ravioli. Perhaps 3 medium sized ravioli with homemade pasta per person. With a some of the ragu, with only a small amount of sauce, for the filling. Use the rest of the sauce to dress the ravioli. Perhaps some sort of creamy horseradish drizzle would lift it to something pretty special.