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.

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.

Simple Tomato Sauce – A Freezer Essential

This is based on a Rick Stein suggestion and works very well. It’s a great simple tomato sauce which freezes nicely in portions. I always have portions in the freezer.
It’s flavoured with bay leaf and having fresh bay leaves really helps. Every garden should have a bay tree, they are easily grown in pots by the back door. It can be jazzed up by adding basil or oregano (dried or fresh) when using to add a different flavour edge.
I use tinned tomatoes and they work well. If you have fabulous ripe fresh tomatoes they would work too (you need to skin them) but I don’t think it will work so well with supermarket water balls…. This is probably a good way to use up that tomato glut at the end of the season if you grow your own. If using fresh from the supermarket, you might find some tomato puree helps the colour and flavour a bit. The tinned approach is tasty, easier and less work.
Did you know that most tomatoes sold in our supermarkets are grown in water (a system called hydroponics)? This is where buying organic can make a difference. The Soil Association certify what is organic, which they do by certifying the soil. So tomatoes that are organic have to be grown in soil.
It’s quite possible to grow all the ingredients in your own garden (assuming you have somewhere like a greenhouse for the tomatoes.) The onions, garlic and bay leaves are all grown easily at home. Get started with some garlic, it’s the easiest.
I find this sauce useful for:
  • Being the tomato base to smear on top of a pizza before adding other toppings
  • As a sauce for pasta. A simple cooked pasta with this sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan with fresh basil works really well.
  • As a basic sauce, it’s acceptable to most kids with pasta as it doesn’t have any “bits” or anything green.
  • Great with homemade ravioli, perhaps stuffed with ricotta and herbs.
  • Rick Stein uses it in a Spanish lamb stuffed aubergine recipe which is really nice. So can be added as a bit of a cheat to some minced beef or pork to make a quick ragu for that emergency guest situation.
Oil… yes, it’s a lot of olive oil (no need for extra virgin) but it gets blended into a smooth sauce and emulsifies nicely. Trust me, it’s fine.
I usually make a bigger quantity and freeze portions in labelled freezer bags. One piece of work, many meals.
Ingredients
Single
Double
Olive oil (don’t waste extra virgin)
125ml
250ml
Onions
250g
500g
Garlic cloves
2
4
Tinned tomatoes (400g tins)
1
2
Bay leaves
3
6
Water
150ml
300ml
Salt
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Sugar
1 teaspoon
2 teaspoons
Method
  1. Sautee the onions in the olive oil till soft. Do not brown/colour/crisp, so a low heat works best and this will take 15 to 30 minutes. Start this first and then look out the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Make the garlic to a paste and add to the onions for the last 5 minutes to cook off.
  3. Now add everything else and bring to the gentlest of simmers.
  4. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the sauce and oil have cooked together and reduce to be a bit thicker.
  5. Remove the bay leaves
  6. Allow to cool and then blend in a food processor or blender. You end up with a slightly orange looking tomato sauce that tastes delicious.
  7. Make in advance and freeze or fridge till needed.
Portion Thoughts
For an 8-year-old, I find that 80g of dried pasta and 140g of sauce works well. That might leave room for that essential scoop of ice cream afterwards.
For an adult 120g of dried pasta, you might want about 180-200g of sauce, depending on how wet you like your pasta and what else you are adding. Eg. pan fry some courgette chunks quickly and add to the sauce along with some fresh oregano.
The 140g portion size works well with a portion of 6-8 homemade ravioli.
Oh, if you’re defrosting from a freezer bag then don’t put the bag of sauce in the microwave. The oil in the sauce will melt the bag and you will have an awful mess. Just sayin’.
If you run the bag under the cold tap you can remove the sauce from the bag quite easily and either melt in a pot or heat in a microwaveable bowl.