The ultimate multi-use meat ragù from Jenny Chandler
You’re best to use a heavy cast iron casserole for ragù—it will temper the heat better than a saucepan. A diffuser is handy for harsh gas or electric hobs, but if you’re having real problems keeping down the heat this could be the moment to dust off the slow cooker or to use a low oven (about 150C). The only rules are low and slow.
Butter and milk transform this dish—giving a sweet depth, they are perfectly at home. Bologna is, after all, in the heart of the Italian dairy land of Emilia-Romagna.
For more uses for ragù—and why it’s well worth cooking in batch—read Jenny’s latest blog
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 medium onions (about 250g), finely diced
3-4 medium carrots (about 250g), finely diced
3 sticks of celery (about 150g), finely diced
200g pancetta or bacon (unsmoked), finely diced
150g chestnut mushrooms (or other tasty varieties), wiped clean and finely diced
1kg minced beef (or a mix of 700g beef and 300g pork)
250ml full fat milk
300ml red or white wine
2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the finely diced onions, carrots and celery to the pan. Known as sofrito, this is the foundation for virtually every Italian sauce or stew. Stir the vegetables to cover them in the oil and then toss in the pancetta (or bacon). Cook over a low heat for about 5 mins before stirring in the mushrooms.
Stir the vegetables from time to time to stop them from catching and burning. Wait for them to soften and collapse while the pork fat renders. This will take about 15 mins in all, with such a large quantity. Ragù is all about patience.
Turn up the heat and crumble in the minced meat, stirring to remove the raw redness and creating flavour as you go.
Turn down the heat. It’s time to add some liquid: milk or wine first? Such a question can spark hours of heated discussion among Italian cooks. I go with milk first and it’s always worked wonderfully well. Simmer the milk for 2 mins before adding the wine. Don’t worry about boiling off the alcohol, the long, slow cooking of the sauce will deal with that. Add the tinned tomatoes, a good pinch of salt and ground black pepper.
Now reduce your heat to the lowest point possible—the idea is to simmer the ragù gently, it should do little more than tremble, with the odd bubble blipping to the surface. It’s nigh impossible to achieve a low simmer on many hobs but don’t despair, you could put this in the oven (see intro). Be sure to leave the pan uncovered for the first hour of cooking—the idea is to evaporate off some of the liquid.
I set my timer at 20-mins intervals to check up on the ragù: that I still have enough liquid, giving it a stir to prevent any catching and keeping an eye on the temperature. Cover the pan once you have reduced the sauce. It should be moist, but not swimming in juices.
After at least 3 hours, or maybe 4 if you have them, the sauce will taste intensely savoury with hint a sweetness from the milk. Now’s the time to correct the seasoning and decide where to take your ragù next.
Recipe: Jenny Chandler