A slow-simmered ragu using the ingredients you likely already have in your pantry. I served this version with ciciones – a chewy, dense pasta resembling chickpeas.
Early on in the pandemic, I felt an insatiable desire to travel. Well, obviously, traveling wasn’t going to happen. So, instead, I started cooking some of my favorite meals from abroad. The first dish that came to mind was a wild boar (cinghiale) ragu, served in Tuscany, Italy with chewy, thick, pici noodles. I desperately wanted to re-create the complex, meaty ragu, but I was limited to the items in my pantry because of the lockdown. I tested my own version of the ragu, slow simmered for an hour, that can be easily adapted to what you have at home. The end result is something very loosely inspired by the original, but still quite delicious.
How do we make this dish?
This recipe follows the typical method of a ragu by sautéing aromatics and herbs until softened and fragrant, then adding meat until nicely seared. The meat then simmers in a loose tomato sauce to develop a nice, complex flavor. The biggest difference between this ragu and a typical ragu, is that I call for the use of woody herbs, preferably rosemary, to mimic the ragu I had in Tuscany. The woody herbs add a robust, earthy flavor to the ragu but can very well be omitted if you don’t have them.
How is this recipe flexible?
This recipe is not traditional at all — it’s made to use up ingredients you already have. You can use whatever aromatics you’d like. I recommend the classic, onion, carrot, and celery, but fennel would be great too, or you could omit any of the ones you don’t have.
You can use whatever meat or non-meat you like. A mix of ground beef and pork, sausage, beyond meat, even mushrooms are great here. If you find wild boar, you can make this really special. I eat meat very sparingly these days, so I typically use beyond meat or finely chopped mushrooms. For vegetarian versions, I recommend adding some a little bit of additional flavoring like miso paste/soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce/fish sauce (if you’re pescatarian) to really amp up the dish. You don’t need a lot — start with a teaspoon and continue adjusting as the sauce simmers.
The goal of the ragu is to simmer your meat in an aromatic, flavorful liquid over a long period of time. Typically, ragus use some sort of tomato product, wine, and/or stock. You can experiment with different combinations of these depending what you have in your pantry. If you only have tomato paste, you’ll likely want to add more liquid to loosen the sauce. Or, you can use a combination of crushed tomatoes and wine. Don’t feel like you need to stick to the recipe exactly — the most important thing is that you’re simmering the meat in a flavorful base for a long enough time to end up with a complex, rich dish.
Oh, and one last thing. Make sure you finish the pasta in the sauce, letting the sauce cling to the noodles. You can add a little pasta water to loosen the sauce as necessary. It’ll really elevate the dish.
Recipe: Slow-Simmered Pantry Ragu
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 sprigs rosemary, optional
- 1 lb ground meat, sausage, beyond meat ground meat, or mushrooms
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup red or white wine
- 1/2 cup veg/chicken/beef stock, plus more if necessary
- Some sort of tomato product — I recommend a 28oz can of whole peeled tomatoes, lightly crush the tomatoes before adding into the pot, but you can use a tube of tomato paste (just make sure to add more liquid)
- Minced parsley for garnish
- Grated parmigiano for garnish
- 12 oz dried pasta or 16oz fresh pasta, such as tagliatelle or pappardelle
- Heat a large saute pan or dutch oven to medium heat and add the olive oil.
- Add the onion, carrot and celery, and cook for about 5-7 minutes until softened and the onion is translucent.
- Add the the garlic and herbs (if using) and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant at medium heat.
- Increase the heat medium high and add the meat and generously sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Let brown, about 6 – 7 minutes, and break it up with a wooden spoon.
- If you plan on using tomato paste, add that now and cook for 2 – 3 minutes until it begins to caramelize and the oils separate.
- Increase the heat to medium high and add the wine. Let the wine cook for 3-4 minutes until reduced.
- Add the can of tomato, stock, (and any additional stock if necessary to loosen the sauce) and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Season again with salt and pepper.
- Cook for at least an hour minutes at a low simmer (it will taste even better with a longer simmer, or the next day). Season again.
- When the sauce is done, cook the pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta water, and add the pasta into the saucepan.
- Cook for about 1-2 minutes at low heat until the sauce clings to the pasta, adding any pasta water as necessary to loosen the sauce.
- Pour into serving bowls and garnish with parsley and cheese.