whenever someone asks me what my favourite thing is to cook, this is my answer. I've cooked this countless times since a family friend in bologna gave us his simple recipe, and I will never get tired of it. I've tried a few recipes from different sources over the years with varying degrees of complexity; some had chicken liver added, many had a mixture of pork, veal and beef, while others required you to render the fat from lardons at the start. I hardly noticed the changes and to me, this is the best balance of simple and delicious. for best results, dice all of the vegetables extremely finely (brunoise) and try to break up the meat into the smallest possible pieces while it's browning.
Makes 1 large pot, serves ~12 (half can be reserved and stored in the freezer)
3 stalks of celery, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 lbs. of medium ground beef
1 cup of wine (white or red)
1 can (28 oz.) of crushed tomatoes or 1 can of tomatoes pureed with an immersion blender
1 cup of milk
parmesan rind (optional)
1-2 tbsp of fish sauce (it's not "traditional" but fish sauce bumps up the umami and adds depth to the ragu)
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 250°F.
Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat.
Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, then the celery, carrots and onion. Sautée for a few minutes until the vegetables have softened. Remove the vegetables and place them in a heat proof bowl.
Brown the beef in the pot, stirring constantly and breaking up the beef into the smallest possible pieces.
Once the beef is fully browned, return the vegetables and pour in the wine. Reduce the heat to medium and let the wine evaporate, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, milk and parmesan. Stir in to combine, put the lid on the pot and put the pot in the oven. Cook for about 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. Starting an hour into cooking, taste the sauce each time you stir. Remove the pot from the oven when it has softened enough for your tastes.
If the sauce is not thick enough, place the pot back on the stove over medium heat without the lid and reduce the sauce. Season to taste with first fish sauce (about one or two tablespoons) then with salt and pepper. Remove the parmesan rind.
Serve on pasta with parmesan cheese. For best results, mix in a bit of starchy water from cooking pasta into the ragu, then reduce the ragu back to its original consistency before adding the cooked pasta to the ragu. This provides some starch to the ragu, which in turn allows it to cling better to the pasta. For extra details, check out the food lab's take on saucing pasta.
Our favourite gluten free pasta is Garofalo. It doesn't dissolve and become mush at the blink of an eye like most rice based pastas do, and can actually reach a proper level of al dente. To cook gluten free pasta, use a larger pot than normal, stir frequently, and do not rinse after.