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  Ragù is one of the most popular pasta condiments throughout Italy. Recipes abound and you'd be surprised at the extent of variations. Even within a small area like Romagna — which is only a portion of the region Emilia-Romagna — the variations are significant. For instance, I use beef, but if I could find the right kind of pork sausage, I would use a mixture of 2/3 beef and 1/3 sausage. Sometimes I use 50/50 lean beef and lean pork. My grandmother used beef and chicken livers and others use a combinations of beef, veal and pork. Another item of contention is wine. I use red; some people use white and others use milk instead. How different can you get?

If you've never made ragù, this is a basic recipe that will get you started. Try it and then modify according to your taste.

About the big quantity… it's due to a convergence of laziness and ease to freeze. Ragù freezes well, so I make about two pounds in one go (about 1 kg) and then freeze what I don't use right away in small packages.

What you need
— two medium onions, chopped fine
— 3-4 ribs of celery, chopped fine
— 2-3 carrots, chopped fine
— two pounds of lean ground beef (or meat of your choice)
— a generous glass of dry red wine
— a large can of whole or crushed tomatoes (San Marzano)
— half a cup of tomato paste (optional)
— olive oil
— rock sea salt
— food processor to cut the onion, carrot and celery quickly
— kettle or pot to keep hot water handy
— timer to remind you to check the pot every 20' or so


  1. Chop the onions, carrots and celery in big chunks, then pass through the food processor.
  2. Put some olive oil in the pan and when it's hot, throw in the onion, carrot and celery and let cook for a few minutes until the mixture starts to become translucent.
  3. To better cook the onion/carrot/celery mix, I divide it between the ragù pot and a pan. When the veggies are ready, I transfer those in the pan to the big pot.

  4. Raise the flame and add the ground beef stirring often with a wooden spoon until all the redness has gone.
  5. Add the red wine and mix until it has been absorbed.
  6. Add the peeled tomatos and tomato paste, lower the flame and let cook slowly for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  7. From time to time check to see if you need to add water. If so, add hot water (keep kettle handy). You can also add broth but be aware of the overall saltiness. I prefer to go easy on the salt and then adjust it towards the end.
  8. When the ragù is done, let it cool off for a few hours, then prepare packages to freeze.

  9. I make my packages very flat to maximize contact surface for faster defrosting.

    Et voilà, a month of pasta.

Ragù is a "sugo di carne" (meat sauce) and it's all about the meat, not the tomatoes.

Beef: I use the leanest I can find. When I want a particularly strong flavor, I get New Zealand beef; it's slightly gamier than US beef.

Tomatoes: I buy San Marzano tomatoes. They are grown on the volcanic soil of the Vesuvio near Napoli (Naples) and tastier than other kinds. Unless you grow your own tomatoes, of course… I tried that and lost to the greenhorn worms.

For directions on how to cook pasta, see How to cook pasta the Italian way.