Sugo - the Tuscan-style ragu
02 August 2018
I’ve cooked the same recipe for a ragu for a delicious spaghetti bolognese for years - slow cooked, rich and full of umami goodness. But since this year I’ll be holidaying in Tuscany, I thought I should have a go at adapting this recipe to be closer to Tuscan-style.
What’s the difference? Mainly in what’s called the soffritto, which is a base of very finely chopped red onion, carrot and celery which gets fried until it is caramelised. Soffritto isn’t unique to one Italian region - it’s the flavour base used for a number of dishes across the country - but each region will have its own variations on how it is prepared. This one focuses on what some call ‘the holy trinity’ of onion, carrot and celery.
Good news for me - those last couple of sticks of celery in the fridge were getting to the floppy stage - still perfectly good for a soffritto.
In this case, I used streaky bacon - so not 100% authentic Tuscany then! Feel free to swap the bacon out for pancetta.
These quantities will serve six people as a sauce for pasta. I make it and portion it up and freeze it - giving an almost instant supper for those nights when you don’t have time to cook something from scratch. The future instant meals almost make up for the time it takes to actually cook this - although most of the time it’s quite happily getting on with its own thing.
Sugo - the Tuscan-style ragu
1 red onion, peeled
1 large carrot, peeled
2 celery stalks
3 cloves garlic
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
1 glass red wine
1 x 400g can tomatoes
100g tomato purée
450g beef mince
500ml chicken stock
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon
Salt and black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese - to serve
Finely chop the red onion, carrot and celery. Some people suggest you could blitz them in a food processor to almost a pulp. If you do this, you should try to remove some of the water that will come out of the onion and celery. I just chopped them as finely as I could, but then at a certain point of the day, I can quite easily get into the therapeutic routine of finely chop chop chopping - you may not be the same, in which case take the quick route. Once you’ve done that, you should peel and finely chop the garlic as well (but don’t blitz the garlic if you’re doing the food processor thing).
Put enough olive oil in the pan to give about a quarter of an inch thickness of oil, and then sauté the soffritto gently. For this recipe, you’re aiming to get the vegetables visibly caramelising to quite a degree - (do note you wouldn’t colour them if you were using soffritto in most other standard recipes it gets used in, such as minestrone soup).
While the veg is cooking, brown the meat in a separate pan - frying it at a high heat in batches. Once it is all nicely browned, put to one side. Then, at a slightly lower heat, fry the bacon (or pancetta) until it is also nicely browned. Chop it lightly and then again, set to one side.
Once the veg has caramelised, add the red wine and cook for a while until the wine has evaporated.
Add the browned beef mince, the bacon, the rosemary, the tomatoes, the tomato purée and the chicken stock. Mix it all together and add a little salt and pepper. Bring this to the boil, and then turn down to a low temperature. Allow to simmer gently on the hob with the lid slightly open until the sauce thickens to a nice consistency - should take about an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can put the sauce in a casserole dish, cover it with a lid and put it in the oven at 180ºC / 160ºC fan oven.
Once the sauce has thickened up, taste and add more salt to taste. Serve with your pasta of choice and a little grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Recipes only ever call for one or two sticks of celery, making it one of the most frequent causes of food waste. You can keep it fresh for a lot longer if you keep it in water in the fridge. Cut the stalks from the base and cut them in half. Immerse in water in a sealed container and keep it in the fridge. Change the water every couple of days. This should keep the celery crisp and ready to use for a couple of weeks.