Everyone has their favourite recipe for Ragu. It can be done quickly of course but I find it is worth the effort to do it the slow way using good ingredients. The long slow cooking really improves the ragu giving it that Mmmm quality. It is the better for keeping for a few days. The flavours really intensify. I tend to make a large quantity and freeze it in portions. I use it for Lasagne, Spaghetti Bolognese and another pasta dish which is a sort of quick lasagne but is so tasty. It's also very good on it's own served with fresh crusty bread for mopping up and a salad if you want your greens.
If making lasagne, measure your milk for the bechamel sauce the day before making. Add a quartered onion about a dessertspoon of black peppercorns, two torn bay leaves and two crushed cloves of garlic. Leave in the fridge overnight and strain before making the sauce. Wonderful flavour.
500 gms/1lb approx good quality minced beef,lamb,pork or a mixture if you like.
Six slices of smoked streaky bacon chopped up into small pieces (This really gives a lovely flavour)
Two or more cloves of garlic finely chopped
Two tins of San Marzano tomatoes if you can get them. If not, do use good quality tomatoes as it really does make a difference.
Two tablespoons of tomato puree
200mls red wine
100 mls milk
One desertspoon dried Oregan (the flavour is better than fresh)
A good handful of torn basil leaves
Fresh nutmeg grated
A little lard,butter or oil. I prefer lard as I think it gives a sweeter flavour to the onions but you must do as you wish
A liitle (about 50mls) Marsala or other fortified wine. Whatever you have in your cupboard will do.
Melt your chosen fat/oil in a heavy based casserole or saucepan. A cast iron pot is ideal for the slow cooking if you have one.
Chop the onions very finely with the garlic
Stir gently into the pot and cook gently until soft an translucent
Add the marsala/fortified wine
Turn down the heat and place a peice of oiled foil over the onions right down into the pot until it is just in touch with the onions. Leave to soften and cook for about an hour.
Remove the foil and turn up the heat adding the bacon.
Stir for a few minutes until the bacon is cooked.
Add the mince breaking it up with a fork and strirring it so it browns and separates.
Season with freshly ground black pepper. You should not need salt with the bacon but can add it later if you want more.
Keeping the heat up add the wine and let it bubble away for a few minutes so the meat absorbs the wine and the alcohol evaporates.
Add the milk and let it bubble for a few minutes. The milk coats the mince removing the grittiness that sometimes happens with mince.
Add the oregano and about half of the basil leaves
Add the tomatoes and the tomato puree stirring everything well to amalgamate.
You can let this simer very slowly on the hob for a couple of hours or cook in a very slow oven.
Don't forget to taste as you go. Not a hard thing to do.
If it gets too dry add a little water.
Don't add any more salt until the end of cooking. It gets quite concentrated so you don't want to spoil it
When it is cooked, stir through the rest of the basil and grate in some fresh nutmeg.
A Few Other Tips
If making Lasagne I find the dried sheets work better than the so called ' fresh' from the supermarket. Even though the instructions say not to, I find better results by softening the sheets first by putting a roasting pan on the hob with simmering water. Place the sheets in for a few minutes . Rinse in cold water and leave on a tea towel until using.
layer up with bechamel sauce mozzarella cheese and pecorino cheese. Lovely
Another quick baked pasta dish is to boil up some macaroni or other dried pasta, mix it with some of the ragu. Place in a dish and splot some bechamel over the top with mozzarella and grated pecorino/parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until golden and bubbling.
I favour Pecorino cheese but it is more expensive so any fresh Parmesan can be used. Do use the mozzarella. It makes a wonderful difference to the finished dish.
(The 19th May is International Baking Day! What will you be baking? I am still in Canada, and taking care do my mum who is now home from the hospital ....