Rigatoni con ragu’ (rigatoni with meat sauce)

Ahhhh, the beloved Italian meat sauce that everyone loves oh so much. There are so many variations on this sauce and everyone seems to have the best way to make it. I’m not claiming mine is the best (ok, maybe just a little) but mine is certainly fairly painless to make and is not too involved with a bunch of ingredients. It pays homage to the classic ragu’ alla Bolognese (from the city of Bologna) but allows for some variations for personal preference. Typically ragu’ is made with long pasta (usually tagliatelle) but I like using any cylindrical hollow pasta (penne, rigatoni, etc.) because when you mix it all up the sauce finds its way into the cylinders and creates a little sauce explosion in your mouth when you chomp down on it. Sauce explosion?? Um, yes please.

This is totally a comfort food dish for me. I learned most of my cooking skills and recipes from my dad growing up, but my mom has also left her mark with some recipes that I still keep in rotation. This is one of them–oh hey, Mom and Dad, I know you’re reading! 🙂 Pasta con ragu’ is a dish that, for me, evokes feelings of love, affection, and warmth. When making it, the smell infiltrates my home and reminds me of my childhood. This recipe has nostalgic and sentimental appeal and it’s one of those dishes that just makes me sit back and sigh after I’m done (most likely because I ate enough to feed a small country). I think everyone has something like this, no? Something that your grandmother or mother or father used to make that when you heard that’s what they were preparing that night your face would light up and you would go back for 2 or even 3 helpings! Fat kids unite!! Actually wait, no, I wasn’t a fat kid, but I should have been for the amount of food I consumed.

Typically the ragu’ bolognese is made with three types of ground meat–beef, veal, and pork. Since this is my variation, I’m only using beef–mainly because I already had some in my freezer and my lazy butt didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Feel free to use whatever ground meat you prefer–you can even make this with ground turkey! I’m using grass-fed pastured ground beef ( I know, que fancy, huh?) because it makes me feel better about myself. Yes, I said it. And something about it being better for you…?? Sure, I’ll take it.

A word about the sauce, if I may. Here in the States, Americans tend to drown their pasta in sauce. That’s all fine and dandy, but you will be sorely disappointed when/if you go to Italy and the sauce and pasta are duking it out for a starring role–a hint, the pasta is annihilating that sauce, MMA style. In Italy the sauce is minimal allowing for the pasta to play a contending role in the flavors of the dish. You do what you want (obviously) but don’t say I didn’t tell ya so! There’s a nice article from Mark Bittman in the NY Times that talks a bit about this. He suggests having more sauce than pasta in vegetable based dishes (in order to increase your veggie intake) but he also delves into some possible reasons why Italians don’t use much sauce. Interesting read. Check it out.

Here’s what you need:

1 pound of ground beef (or whatever you like, make sure it’s lean so you don’t get a lot of grease)

2-3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 container of strained tomatoes (I use the Pomi brand)

fresh parmigiano-reggiano, grated

olive oil/salt/pepper

1 cup of dry wine (I’m using white but some people like red–use whatever you have on hand)

2 tablespoons of butter

Here’s what you do:

In a large saucepan/pot, heat up some olive oil over medium heat. Toss in your garlic, onion, celery, and carrots and let them cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Then brown your meat. Pour in the wine and strained tomatoes. Stir to combine everything. Now comes the easy part–let it simmer down, baby! Make sure to put it over low heat and to stir occasionally. I usually cook it for about 45 minutes to an hour. Towards the end I toss in the butter.

Cook your pasta according to the directions. Make sure you use salted water and before you strain your pasta, take out a cup of water and set it aside. Once you combine your sauce with the pasta, this starchy water can be used if your sauce is too dry-just add one or two tablespoons. Serve with fresh parmesan.

This sauce freezes very well so if you have too much or want to make a big batch then just bag it up in some freezer friendly ziplock baggies and you’re good to go!

Buon appetito!

–Melissa

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Categories: Pasta Sauces, Pasta/Italian, Recipes

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6 Comments on “Rigatoni con ragu’ (rigatoni with meat sauce)”

  1. April 16, 2012 at 7:46 pm #

    I think that your rigatoni look delicious. I agree…lightly sauced is best.

    • FoodieMel
      April 17, 2012 at 6:33 am #

      Thanks, karen! I love reading about your travel adventures. La tua pasta con il prosciutto e la panna e’ perfetta! Che buona! Thanks for your support 🙂

  2. gincoolette
    April 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm #

    That’s so true. I always get people to say how Italian pasta is light. The sauce is light. That’s the way it is supposed to be. ahahah Non c’e` nulla di meglio che un buon ragu`. Buono. I don’t know how you do it, but your tomato sauce always looks good. Mine always tastes like a jar/can. I don’t get it.

    • FoodieMel
      April 17, 2012 at 6:34 am #

      Sono d’accordo…ragu’ is so good, always makes me happy! I’m sure your tomato sauce is good!!! Sei italiana, dai…il tuo sugo di pomodoro dovrebbe essere perfetto! hahahah

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