THE INCONVENIENT RAGU-TH

ragu-featured-header-2

I almost couldn’t wait to tell you all about this hysterically inconvenient ragu.  I started curating its debut so many weeks ago, impatiently waited for the temperature to drop and the first damn leaf to fall, until everything… every single elements in the atmosphere ready your hearts for the most glorious, madly delicious ragu you have yet to try.  I even prepared a number of high-impact vocabularies to describe its entire four hours of making, two of which involves you standing by the stove remorselessly scraping the bottom of the pot in the name of culinary commitment, because I was gonna tell you that there’s no compromise when it comes to what I call the art of harvesting caramel, and you’re going to eat it all up.

The recipe has been sitting in my cue for a week now and I haven’t been able to lift a finger.  Well… you know what happened.

ragu2 ragu4ragu8

I feel that this has been cruelly unfair to the rag…well, call it Bolognese sauce if you like, I really do.  It is truly special not because of any ingredients out of the ordinary, but because it requires a relentless process of caramelizing as many single molecules in the pot as humanly possible, a repetitive motion between browning and deglazing until ultimately transforming a bunch of mundane ingredients into a pot of deeply rich and in-depth flavored brew.  If you don’t mind me being a little justly dramatic, the dolce le leche in the realm of ragu!  A technique that I for one have never seen it done in any other mainstream cookbooks except maybe practiced in Southern cooking, the kind of idea that should invigorate any committing cooks who share the passion for a pot of magic brown.

So really, an exceptional meat sauce of this magnitude deserves gushing, wide eyes, undivided attention and unconcealed joy, but instead, I had to make it on the most tragic and regrettable night of my life so far, thus contaminating the pure awesomeness of it with memories of blinding sadness.  Can’t gush about it without the urge to drop a Zoloft.

ragu9 ragu10 ragu11 ragu13

I don’t deserve its greatness, but you are not going to repeat the same mistake.  You are going to pick a day when your whole world seems to be chirping in delights, a day when your contently over-fed Golden Retriever just give birth to a litter of sunshine-colored fur-balls, a day when your dead peach tree resurrects from hell and sprouts unstoppably, a day when your bitchy neighbour moves out and bestfriend moves in, a day when there’s incredible news of world-peace and that the freaking planet is finally cooling down.  Then, and then, you spend the whole afternoon of incandescent joy, standing by the stove and scrape until your arms sore, making and nurturing this pot of ragu with love and anticipation.

Don’t fuck this up.  Because trust me, this ragu deserves to be fondly, fondly remembered.

ragu19ragu26ragu25

Makes:  enough for more than 10 servings

It’s IMPORTANT to choose the right pot for this dish.  You want something that’s flat-bottomed, and wide (NOT narrow) with enough depth (but NOT deep).  The wide and flat-bottom provides enough surface area for browning, and the relatively shallow depth allow steam to escape without building up on the side of the pot, which is going to drip back into the pot and stop the ingredients from browning properly.

It’s also IMPORTANT to season along every step of the way.  Season the meats while they are cooking, then season AGAIN once the vegetables are added.  Then adjust/season AGAIN once the milk and tomatoes are added.  Every time you add LIQUID to a pot of stew of some sort, always keep in mind that it will COOK DOWN/CONDENSE as water evaporates, so whatever tastes salty now, will tastes saltier once it’s done.

I didn’t use wine (white or red) in this recipe as some traditional ragu might have.  If you want, you can incorporate 1/2 cup of red wine in the beginning of step 2.

** The cups I used for this recipe are slightly larger than most.  1 cup = 250 ml.

UPDATE 2014/03/01:  There was a mistake pointed out by a reader, that the conversion for milk from cups to ml is wrong.  7.5 cups should be 1875 ml (not 1250 ml as originally written).  Sorry about that.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup (75 ml) (or slightly more if your ground beef is very lean) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of finely diced pancetta
  • 21 oz (600 grams) of fatty ground pork
  • 23.6 oz (670 grams) of ground beef
  • 1/4 heaping cup (10 grams) of dried porcini mushrooms
  • 7 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 10 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp of minced rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp of chili flakes
  • 2 medium stalks of celery
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 small carrot
  • 4 dried bay leaves (or 2 fresh bay leaves)
  • 4 tbsp of tomato paste
  • 1 piece of (2″x2″) of Parmigiano rind
  • 7 1/2 cup (1875 ml) of whole milk, divided into 1 1/2 cup  or 375 ml for each addition
  • 4 cans (400 grams for each can or 1600 grams in total) of good quality Italian peeled tomatoes
  • Coarse sea salt/grey salt and freshly ground black pepper to season along the way
  • To finish:
    • Any type of fresh thick-cut pasta, such as tagliatelle
    • Little nub of unsalted butter for each serving
    • Aged Parmigiano cheese to grate
    • Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

Use a flat, wide-bottomed pan to do this.

To prepare the ingredients:  Finely finely mince the celery, onion carrots (smaller than dices), then set aside.  I prefer doing this in a food-processor.  Wash the dried porcini mushrooms to get rid of any sands and impurity, then set aside (no need to soak).  Blend all the canned tomatoes with the juice inside until smoothly pureed, and set aside.

STEP 1 – Browning the meat and vegetables (approx 30 min in total):  Heat up the pan over medium-high heat and add 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the pancetta and cook until slightly browned, then add the ground pork and ground beef.  Season with 1 tsp of sea salt/grey salt and 1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper.  This is quite a large amount of meat and they WILL NOT brown immediately.  Juice/liquid may ooze out but THAT’S OK, just keep cooking until all the liquid has evaporated, and that there’s a layer of browning at the bottom of the pan, approx 15 min.

Now add the porcini mushrooms. minced garlic, fresh thyme, minced rosemary and chili flakes.  Cook until fragrant.  Add all the minced vegetables (celery, onion, carrot), bay leaves, tomato paste and Parmigiano rind, and season again with 1 tsp of sea salt/grey salt and 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper.  The vegetables will release juice/liquid which is going to “loosen” the browning on the bottom of the pan.  Scrape the brownings with a wooden spatula, then just as what was done before, keep cooking until all the juice/liquid has evaporated and that there’s A BRAND NEW layer of browning forming at the bottom of the pan, approx 15 min.

STEP 2 – Reducing milk and harvesting caramel (approx 1:40 ~ 2 hours in total):  Once all the meats and vegetables have browned properly, add 1 1/2 cup of whole milk (if using red wine, add and reduce it down completely BEFORE adding the milk).  Keep the heat on medium-high, and stir to evenly mix all the ingredients together.  The milk will loosen the brownings and you will scrape it off with your wooden spatula to let it melt and become part of the sauce, then let it cook and the milk will completely evaporate and form ANOTHER NEW LAYER of brownings, approx 20 min.  You see the repetition now, don’t you?  Then you add the next 1 1/2 cup of whole milk and repeat this process.  If your stove tends to heat unevenly, move around the pan to “maximize” the brownings.  Don’t be afraid to let it get deeply rich and dark brown, as long as it DOESN’T BURN/BLACKEN (moving the pan also prevents partial burning due to centralized heat).  You will harvest the caramel (the brownings!) in each of the 5 additions of milk, and by the end of it, you should have a pot of meat sauce that’s rich and brown with intense flavor.

STEP 3 – Adding and reducing the tomatoes (approx 1: 30 hour):  Once the last/5th addition of whole milk has been added, reduced and browned, you can now add all the pureed tomatoes.  Season again with sea salt/grey salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Stir to evenly mix the ingredients and scrape the brownings on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the heat down to medium-low and partially cover the pan with a lid (tomato sauce SPLATTERS like crazy!).  Let the sauce reduce down by 1/3 to almost 1/2.  Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

To serve:  Cook the pasta (I prefer fresh tagliatelle) according to instructions.  In another pan, add a couple tbsp of freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (for each serving) and little nubs of butter (about 1 tsp for each serving).  Add the cooked pasta to the pan with a generous amount of ragu.  Cook and stir over medium-high heat until everything’s incorporated together.

Serve with more freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and drizzles of extra virgin olive oil.

ragu28

22 Comments

  • Wow this is a commitment to the love of ragu. Not hat I am complaining. For you to post this recipe shows your level of culinary creativity far beyond any main stream foodie.
    I might not know good savoury food but I know it when I see it.Simply marvellous mandy.

  • Joanne says:

    Your posts are always so inventive and delicious looking! I might have to try this to make as Christmas gifts for my neighbors.

  • Helens says:

    I’m sorry that such a fabulous and delicious recipe (not to mention effort) is now associated with such sad memories. Perhaps you should make it again some time, when the feelings about Bado aren’t so raw and it feels more bittersweet to remember her. It will remind you of her, but the being reminded might not be a bad thing.

  • spoonstories says:

    Is very well cooked recipe!Looks amazing in every detail!

  • wynd says:

    Made this as soon as I saw it. I am only learning to cook, but it came out wonderful. I live in the Ukraine with my wife. She grew up eating much differnt than I do. She loved it and begged to take some to work with her. So, I know it was great. I am so thankful that I stumbled upon your site. Thanks and I look forward to more.
    Faithfully, Wynd

  • stephanie says:

    I love your writing style. Just stumbled on this post through a food52 link and I love the frustration in the post. Because often by the time my oven heats up, Im getting ready to put my head in it.

  • Mitch says:

    Wow – you are after my own heart. I have always had a soft spot for properly made Ragu/Bolognese and have made this dish like this in the past. Fantastic expose. Thanks for taking the time and love..

  • Rae Rosen says:

    Are you sure about the one teaspoon o red pepper flakes? THat is a lot of red pepper!

  • Colleen Nelson says:

    Hi Mandy, Just wanted to say congrats on the food52 link! Hope you are enjoying the fresh air today, shame its a bit windy, but at least its blown yesterdays pollution away.
    take care

  • Lindsay says:

    I am currently making this right now…and it smells unbelievable! But I feel like I can almost taste the heart attack. Do you think the results would be similar without the addition of all the milk? Between the fat from the meat and almost a 2 liters of whole milk it seems like so much saturated fat.

    • Lindsay, it’s 1.25 liter, not 2. But of course you can adjust the recipe as you like ;), although I’d say at least 1 liter would be ideal. You’ll have A LOT of ragu for this recipe so when you think about it… it’s really just a SMALL CUP of milk per serving. hahaaa, that’s how I convinced myself.

  • Lindsay says:

    Great! Thanks for the quick reply, must have misread the recipe. You’re blog is fantastic btw. I recently moved to Australia from New York and have been cooking as a way to cope also haha. Although I’m not nearly as creative as you.

  • Mel says:

    Would really like to give this a try, but I’m confused by the amount of milk to add. Your metric and cup quantities don’t correspond – 7.5 cups is around 1875ml, whereas 1250ml is about 5 cups. In your response to Lindsay above you say to use the smaller amount (1.25 liters), but in the recipe itself you say five additions of 1.5 cups/375ml… Which is correct?

    • Mel, oh I’m so sorry about the confusion. You’re right. 7.5 cups is 1875 ml, not 1250ml. I will correct that. Lindsay was initially concerned about using too much milk, so I told her she could settle for less if she wanted to, which is 1250 ml. Sorry about the confusion. The correct/original amount would be 7.5 cups, which is 1875 ml.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


9 + 9 =

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>