Ragù, in Italian, means meat sauce. When I was a kid, my family made ragù by dumping a jar of Ragú spaghetti sauce into a pan of sautéed ground meat that had been mixed with a seasoning packet labeled “Italian” — as if Italy has one flavor. Once plated, we shook a green canister of Parmesan over it.
I loved it. How could I not? My young palate was addicted to the MSG in the seasoning packet and the high fructose corn syrup in the Ragú.
Since then, my palate has matured, and I’ve read about what processed food does to your metabolism. I’ve often wondered if the maternal notion of food-as-love skipped a generation. Of course, times were different. My mother chose feminism over the kitchen, and even though our family’s food didn’t nourish me emotionally, I wouldn’t have gained the chutzpah to tackle the shortcomings of the American food philosophy without her. And along the way, I learned that feminism and cooking aren’t at odds. My work in the kitchen is an expression of my ambitions and aspirations as a woman.
A good meat sauce isn’t something you dump out of a jar or can or whip up in 20 minutes. It’s an act of love that takes time. Here is a meat sauce that can be done in 2 1/2 hours. And except for 30 minutes of this time, you can be enjoying a glass of wine or taking a nap.
Ragù Di Carne
2 cups homemade or store-bought chicken, veal or beef broth
3 carrots, divided
3 celery stalks, divided
1 tablespoon chopped parsley plus one whole sprig
1 large or two small onions, finely chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 bay leaves
1 sprig thyme
1 veal shank with marrow bone, approximately 3/4 pound
10 ounces boneless beef chuck in one piece
1 cup red wine
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
40 grinds of pepper mill
1/2 whole nutmeg, grated
2 tablespoons duck fat
1 pound tagliatelle
Heat broth in medium pot over medium-low heat and add one whole carrot, one whole celery stalk and sprig of parsley. If you kept the outer skin of the onion, add that, too. Simmer until it’s reduced by half. Remove and discard vegetables. Set aside.
Finely chop remaining carrots and celery stalks. Cut meat away from the marrow bone of the veal shank.
Place large pot or Dutch oven on stove and turn heat to low. Add olive oil, chopped onions, chopped carrots, chopped celery, bay leaves, chopped parsley, and sprig of thyme. Add marrow bone. Cook for at least 30 minutes, until the soffritto is golden.
Increase heat to medium high. Add veal shank meat and beef chuck, moving aside soffritto make room for meat. Brown meat well on both sides until it sticks a little to bottom of pan.
Decrease the heat to low while completing next step.
Remove meat from pot, and finely chop it by hand or in food processor. (Do not overprocess into ground meat). Add chopped meat back to the pot.
Increase heat to medium high. Add wine and cook until it evaporates, leaving just a touch of moisture around meat mixture.
Briefly pulse tomatoes in a food processor or blender.
Decrease heat to low, add tomatoes, broth, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and cook for about 2 hours, or longer if you have time. If sauce has not thickened, cook uncovered until it does.
Add butter (or duck fat) and let it melt.
Remove half the sauce and set it aside for leftovers. If you like pasta with a lot of sauce, leave more in pot.
Bring large pot of water to boil over high heat. Throw in some kosher salt, followed by pasta. Stir and cook until al dente.
When pasta is nearly done, turn heat under sauce to medium high, a fuoco vivace, a lively flame.
Drain and add pasta to sauce. Toss to coat noodles.
Serves 4 to 6, plus leftovers.
Elana Horwich is the author of “Meal and a Spiel: How to Be a Badass in the Kitchen” and the founder of the Meal and a Spiel cooking school.