Shhhhh. Now come close. Closer. Let me whisper a secret to you. No, of course you can’t tell anyone! Now, lean in……….
This….my ragu… is the best ragu you will ever taste.
Now, strap on an apron, pour yourself a little wine, let Pavarotti serenade you, and the sauce begins…
Ragu is a long, enduring dance; from a simmering samba to a boiling foxtrot, the flavors tango and the soffritto guides them in their steps. What is soffritto you say? Soffritto is the glue of Italian cooking. Ask any seasoned old woman, bent over a pot of tagliatelle and if you’re lucky enough not to get shooed away with a feisty “vaffanculo!”, she might whisper of a soffritto. Traditionally it is the holy trinity of these three chopped ingredients: carrots, onions, and celery. Each family boasts its own version, though, and it may be any combination of finely minced aromatics; when browned to perfection they turn a recipe into an unbelievable taste of the old world – depth and complexity that comes from such simple ingredients. Today, in my ragu (adapted from Anne Burrell’s), the soffritto is a marriage of celery, fennel, onion, and garlic.
So, I wiggled into my tightest shirt and push up bra, swept on deep red lipstick, and cinched an apron ‘round my waist. Out of deepest respect for the ragu, I channeled my inner fiery Italian housewife.
These are your ingredients:
2 yellow onions
1 small fennel bulb
2 celery ribs
5 cloves garlic
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups tomato paste
2 cups hearty red wine
1 cup tomato sauce
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, extracted from casings
1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, extracted from casings
2 tbsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
1 lb. pasta
Fresh grated parmigiano
Start by setting up – undress your sausage from its casings, mince your soffritto, prepare your fresh thyme, open the cans of tomato paste and sauce, and for goodness sakes pour yourself a glass of vino!
Finely, and I mean finely dice the onion, fennel, and celery; this is your soffritto. Coat a deep, wide stock pot with olive oil and cook these diced veggies until brown. In the words of Anne Burrell, you want to “brown the crap out of them”. It is essential to keep an eye on them when nearing the end of this stage, because there is always a difference between browning and burning. This will take up to 30 minutes. When the lovely soffritto is browned deeply, scrape the bottom to get up any that has stuck, and add the sausage. Continue to stir and break the sausage apart with your spoon as it browns, 10-15 minutes. Next, add the tomato paste and fresh thyme and continue to stir for the next 3-5 minutes. Now add your wine, tomato sauce, and a little water if needed, to cover the mixture by about an inch, and bring to a boil. Once the sauce has reached a boil, add the crushed red pepper and a pinch of salt&pepper, and reduce to a simmer. Check occasionally over the next 2 hrs, adding more water if you need to, tasting, and stirring. During the last twenty minutes or so, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook your pasta.
To serve, add the ragu to the pasta in a big dish along with freshly grated parmigiano. Toss vigorously – this is the final flourish of the ragu dance – the marriage of all those delicious flavors!
Get yourself a heaping portion and a giant glass of red wine and enjoy.