mercoledì 29 febbraio 2012

[recipe] The stuff dreams (and Lasagne) are made of

Fact: ragú, also "italian meatsauce", also "bolognese sauce" (see below), also "God's favourite meal" is the most widespread and beloved italian food after pizza, and you can find it in every italian region and in an incredible number of different recipes as the main ingredient. Actually, this is not entirely true since there is not just one ragú but tens and tens of different kinds of meatsauce that vary in type of meat used, tomato-meat ratio, spices and so on (for example in Parma they don't use the tomato and in Sicily the ragu is somehow similar to the "meatballs sauce" that's considered italian, and it's not, in America, and that's probably where it came from). Nonetheless, they're all called the same and there's somehow an agreement between us to consider them one single thing that accepts huge variations. But enough with the Anthropology lesson and let's get to work.


if you can get fresh rosemary and sage do that, it would be better

First things first: the ragú I'm going to show you how to cook comes essentially from the far Nort-East of Italy, a region called Friuli, and more specifically from my father, so it will be different from what is considered the "classic" ragú that traditionally comes from Bologna (and that's what "bolognese sauce" is loosely based on). Still, it would be orders of magnitude better than every "spaghetti bolognese" you will find here in the US and I can assure you friends from all Italy liked it, but bear in mind that what I'm going to teach you is a bit of my household's cousine, not an italian recipe set in stone. I'm also going to use ingredients easy to find here so don't worry about spending too much money or having to go crazy to find them. The only thing it would be hard for you to find is, probably, the time: this recipe needs 3/4 hours to be completed. Don't be scared, for most of the time it will cook by itself, but since it will need the occasional stirring you'll have to be around for the whole time. It is, in fact, something italian moms (or dads) do on Sunday morning that will be then frozed or put in vacuum jars and last for weeks, so apron up! and prepare yourself to become a real italian mom.

the ingredients:

- ground beef and ground pork, half and half
- tomato sauce and whole peeled tomatoes, 1/3 and 2/3
- red wine
- finely chopped garlic, celery, red onion and carrot
- rosemary and sage
- extra virgin olive oil
- salt (and sugar, see below)

Notice that I haven't specified the quantities, that's because the only thing that matters is the meat-to-tomato ratio which for this recipe is 50-50 (like I said before this varies in other kinds of ragú), so basically it all depends on how much ragú you want to make. This time I used 2.4 lbs of meat and that resulted in seven servings of ragú, from past experiences I can tell you that it would also be good for one big tray of Lasagne and two/three spare servings. Remember that the weight written on tomato cans includes the water, which will evaporate, so divide it by half when you do the math. My advice is to do use at least 1.5 lbs of meat, since it's a lot of work and if you froze it or put it under vacuum it would last for months and you'll always have a ready to use sauce for a delicious quick pasta (and we all know that's the best fast food there is).

The only thing you need to do before start cooking apart from finely chopping the vegetables (you can leave some bigger chunks of carrot if you want, I don't) is mixing the beef and the pork using your hands, it's important that you do a good job here so don't halfass it

getting dirty in the kitchen: that's the italian way

I like to add the garlic now and mix it to the meat, but you can also put it in later with the other spices. About garlic: there's a legend around that garlic makes your breath stinks, it's (almost) a lie and there's a simple way to avoid that. Instead of just chopping the entire garlic peel it and then open it with a knife

you scoundrel! it's your fault if people despise the delicious garlic!

See that little green bastard inside? that's what's causing your bad breath. I think the reason is that we are unable to properly digest it, so when it goes in our stomach bad things happen and the result is that the gasses that come out (remember: bad breath is mostly caused by digestion gasses, not just by what stays between our teeth or on our tongue) are especially dreadful. lose that little green devil before chopping the garlic and the problem will be solved. That applies to every time you use garlic everywhere, of course.


btw the correct amount of vegetables to sautee is "enough to cover the bottom"

Sautee the celery, the carrot and the red onion on a high flame and don't be scared of using a good amount of olive oil, stir from time to time and remember that it would be ready when the onions turn to a light gold color (brown would be late, black too late), when that happens add the meat

time to get this homo looking meat to lose the pink!

Now the tricky part: you have to use brute force and a wooden spoon to mix the whole thing for a few minutes until the meat goes from pink to a greyish brown and starts to break down in little chunks. Be careful not to get boiling oil on your hands (but if that happens remember that you're a tough italian mom, the pain can't stop you). What you want to get is this

aaand that's better


Now it starts to get really easy, just open the bottle of wine and drown it. What kind of wine should you use? I say you shouldn't use a wine you wouldn't drink but it's a waste to use a wine you would want to.

Don't use a very strong scented wine since something of it will actually remain and  not evaporate. I chose a Merlot for that reason (also, kangaroos are cute)

The whole reason behind the wine is that the buthanol contained in it (a specific kind of alcohol) boils at around 140 celsius, which is the temperature that triggers the Maillard reaction. The reasons why you would want to do that are pretty much self evident if you ever had a good burger, since it's basically what happens when you get that delicious brown on the exterior of the meat. Anyway, let's proceed.

how much is 140 Celsius in Fahrenheit? simple, is "start using the metric system already you barbarians" degrees

The wine has to be just enough to cover the meat entirely but having it just below the surface, in this case I needed a whole bottle but you can usually save some. Now you'll have 15/20 minutes of time till the wine evaporates, and it needs just one or two stirrings (so you can have that glass of wine and maybe turn on the tv and relax a little bit).


Now it's time for tomato and spices, so when the meat is dry again add the tomato first

see how the meat on the right is brown? that's the wine that worked his magic

mix and then add the spices, a couple pinches of salt and, but be careful, a little bit of sugar (a teaspoon would be enough) that would help contrast the acidity of the tomato

be generous with sage and rosemary, they will add a very important note to the ragú

Now you just have to mix the whole thing a little bit and then your work is almost done, because when you have this

I know it doesn't look good, but give him some time

The ragú will basically cook itself, you just have to cover the pot and turn down the flame close to the minimum. I'm going to repeat it because is incredibly important: turn down the flame to a very very low setting

this is not an accident, you have to leave a little opening instead of cover the thing entirely (remember that a lot of water has to evaporate now)


So now you have to wait and occasionally stir the ragú. For how long you will have to do that? let's say that the ragú I made yesterday cooked for three hours, and even lesser amounts would need at least two. So sit down on your sofa, relax, drink a beer and see a movie or two. Here are three of my all time favourites to help you choose:

I'm completely serious

Remember to stir the ragú from time to time (every 20/30 minutes or so), towards the end you can even add a little bit of olive oil, especially if you have a good one (the Bertolli you see in the first picture is a good compromise between taste and price here in the US) and let it cook on it for the last 20 minutes. After your long wait you'll finally get this

My mouth is watering right now, and trust me you will have to fight the impulse of just eating it by itself

which is unbelievably delicious, and I really can't be more precise about his taste. The only thing left do to is to store it, and I personally prefer to put it under vacuum instead of froze it so it will be quicker to use in the future. I think every grocery store sells those kinds of jars

Close them carefully and then boil the jars for 20/30 minutes, all the air will come out and the ragú will be like fresh and ready to use for months. Of course you can always use it right now (in case let it rest for at least half an hour), for a pasta or for a tray of lasagne (I'll give you the full recipe another time) or basically for anything you want since it's really the most versatile sauce there is and will make everything better. Everything.

Ok I hope you read the whole thing and want to try it sometimes, I know it's very long and kind of a half recipe, since you'll always have to use the ragú with something else, but I hope you know how to cook pasta. If you don't, or even if you think you do but really don't, see this video (ok see the video anyway IT'S IMPORTANT, remember you don't really need butter oil and cheese at the end). Next recipes will be easier and quicker, but this was so important that I wanted to start with it.

you liked this recipe? you'll find  more here

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