Ragu, as you know, is NOT the jarred spaghetti sauce you got in your school cafeteria in the 1970s, or that your mother–and now maybe even you, if you have children–opened up to pour on spaghetti a la East Tennessee (i.e., cooked to mush).
But what IS it? There are about as many recipes for ragu as there are internet sites. In short, though, ragu is a meat sauce with tomatoes and finely chopped vegetables served over pasta. I’ve seen recipes with lamb and pork and sausage as well as beef. Too many recipes claim to be authentic even to list here, but I’m proud to say that this one is fairly close to the one from the Italian Culinary Institute (or so the web site claims) and that of the great Mario Batali.
I guess this one has some authenticity because it comes from Claudia Mantovani, an Italian friend from Milan.
Fred would eat this every day if I were willing to cook it.
1 lb. ground beef
Olive oil and/or butter for sauteeing
1 minced onion
2 – 3 minced carrots
2 stalks minced celery
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. “magic cube” (Claudia’s word for “beef bouillon”–I use Better than Bouillon, which does not come in cube form)
2 bay leaves
1 can tomatoes (Debate rages over whether or not to use whole or crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce or paste. I’ve tried it all, and except for the paste, it works. And Mario likes the paste, so that probably works too.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. cream (half and half will do)
Grated fresh Parmesan
Saute onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil and/or butter. Cook about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until soft. Add beef, breaking it up as you cook it, and cook until just brown. Add tomatoes, vinegar, bouillon, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook, half covered, for about half an hour. Add cream. Cook another half hour or more. Serve over spaghetti or linguini. Top with Parmesan.