The Italians are genius. I consistently marvel at how a hunk of cheap beef, a handful of pantry staples and 15 minutes of active effort can produce something as luscious as this.
To me, a slow cooked ragu is the ultimate comfort food. I’m not just saying that to convince you how yummy this pasta is. You will never read those words again on this blog. Ragu has been my favourite slow cooked dish for at least a decade now, and I don’t see myself changing my mind anytime in the foreseeable future. I am, after all, a creature of habit.
The sheer awesomeness of Italian food is really showcased in dishes like this. A handful of everyday ingredients, simple prep, cooked long and slow = eye-rollingly delicious food. Look at it! Look at how rich the ragu sauce is!
For this one I’m sharing with you, I even went to the effort of spending 2 minutes to dice carrots and celery so I could make it using a soffritto which is a classic Italian base for many slow cooked dishes. You simply sauté them over low heat with onion and garlic so they sweeten and release flavour into the oil. When you taste the ragu, you will notice that there is something different about it. You can’t quite put your finger on exactly what it is, but you just know it tastes better!
BUT rest assured it is still stellar even without making the soffritto, and to be honest, I probably make ragu more often without it because celery isn’t part of my standard weekly shop.
Mmmm….just look at that pasta coated with thick tomato sauce and the soft, tender shreds of beef throughout it….
This makes a lot because it’s one of those dishes where you won’t get the same result making it in smaller quantities as it cooks too fast. But it freezes so well, and leftovers are fantastic for turning into other dishes. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a pie made with the leftover ragu sauce as well as fritters made with leftover ragu mixed through pasta (you might be dubious at the sound of fritters made with leftover pasta, but I promise you, they are ridiculously delicious with the added benefit of being kid friendly!).
Do you get messy eating pasta? With the amount of smear that ends up on my napkin, I’m convinced I still eat pasta like I did when I was 8! – Nagi
- 2.5lb / 1.2kg beek brisket or any other slow cooking beef, cut into equal 4 pieces (Note 1)
- 1 tbsp salt
- Black pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil, separated
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 cup carrots, diced (optional) (Note 2)
- 1 cup celery, diced (optional) (Note 2)
- 28oz/800g crushed canned tomatoes
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 beef bouillon cubes (Note 3)
- 3 cups water (Note 3)
- 3 dried bay leaves
- Extra salt and pepper, to taste
- 1lb/500g dried spaghetti or other pasta of choice (rigatoni and pappardelle are ideal)
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese or parmigiano reggiano
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
- Pat beef dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over high heat in a heavy based pot. Add beef and sear each piece on all sides until browned (around 3 minutes in total), then remove onto a plate.
- Turn stove down to medium low and add remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil.
- Add garlic and onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Then add the carrots and celery and sauté slowly for 5 minutes.
- Add remaining Ragu ingredients (except extra salt and pepper) and return the beef to the pot (add the juices too). Turn the stove up and bring it to a simmer, then turn it down to low (Note 7) (see Note 8 for slow cooker). Cover the pot and let it cook for 1 hr 45 minutes. Then remove the lid and let it cook for a further 30 minutes until the beef is tender enough to pull apart with forks and the liquid has reduced to be a thick sauce.
- Do a taste test and adjust the seasoning to your taste with salt and pepper. ALSO add a little but of sugar (1/2 tsp at a time!) if it is a bit sour for your taste (Note 6)
- Turn the stove off and remove the beef from the sauce into a large bowl. Shred it coarsely with two forks. Then return it to the sauce. Place the lid on and set aside until ready to serve (it's even better the next day!).
- Bring a very large pot of water with 1 tbsp of salt to the boil.
- Add pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the recommended cooking time as per the packet instructions.
- Meanwhile, place 5 cups of the Ragu in a very large fry pan, or use 2 normal size fry pans. (Note 4) Heat over high heat while the pasta is cooking.
- When the pasta is ready, transfer it directly from the pot into the fry pan using tongs.
- Add 1 cup of pasta water into the fry pan.
- Gently toss the pasta (I use 2 wooden spoons) for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sauce water evaporates and leaves you with a thick Ragu sauce that coats the pasta.
- Yell for your family to sit down at the dinner table because you need to serve it immediately!
- Serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan, or even better, with parmigiano reggiano.
2. Celery and carrots sautéed with the onions and garlic is called "soffritto" in Italian cooking. It is a very traditional base for many Italian dishes. Cooking them slowly over low heat releases their flavour and adds an extra dimension to this dish. BUT it is optional! I don't often have celery lying around and also, sometimes I don't have the energy for the extra chopping!
3. You could use 2 cups of beef stock and 1 cup of water, instead of 3 cups of water and 2 beef bouillon cubes.
4. You need a really large fry pan to make this using an entire 1lb/500g packet of pasta because you need the space to toss the sauce and pasta together with the pasta water. This is called "emulsifying" and it is a KEY secret to awesome pastas. Italian Nonna's will roll over in their graves if you don't do this! So if you don't have a large fry pan, do this step in two fry pans. I can't stress enough what a difference emulsifying makes to pastas!
5. This can be made in a slow cooker - 6 hours on low - but at the end, you will need to remove the beef and transfer the sauce to a pot and simmer until it reduces.
6. The sweetness of canned tomatoes differs depending on brand (typically more expensive = sweeter). So adjust the sweetness of your sauce to your taste by using sugar - ½ tsp at a time.
7. Turn the heat of the stove down to a level where it is bubbling very, very gently - a few bubbles here and there. This usually LOW on Gas Stoves but might be medium low on electric stoves. If it is too high - i.e. simmering rapidly (lots of bubbles appearing rapidly) - then you run the risk of the bottom burning. If it is too low, it will take longer to cook.
8. To make this in a slow cooker, cook on LOW for 6 hours (even 8 hours is fine, but any longer and the beef will turn to "mush" - yes it is possible to overcook things in the slow cooker!).
Nutrition analysis for Ragu Sauce only, assuming 1 cup of ragu sauce per serving (recipe makes 8 cups):
Nutrition analysis per serving of pasta with the sauce (assuming 1 packet of pasta + 5 cups of Ragu Sauce serves 6 people, as per the above recipe directions):