This big ol’ blob of red mush is one of my favorite things to make in the winter: ragu’. When serving ragu’, you “should” toss the sauce with all the pasta before plating. I on the other hand like mixing it all in the serving plate, I guess its that kid in me that enjoys playing with food. Instead of beef and/or pork, I used Elk sausage I found at Uli’s in Pike Place Market in Seattle (since I’m visiting for the winter). Why Elk? Out of curiosity, of course! I’ve been happy with wild boar in the past and wanted to experiment. If you are in Italy, you can try deer or cervo for a similar game-y effect.

Oh! And did you know that there is a deeper meaning to the term: ragu’? According to The Gourmet Wino, “the word ragu is a derivative of the french verb ragouter which means “to stimulate appetite.” In Italy, “Ragu” it is a staple tomato based meat sauce cooked/simmered for hours with celery, onions, carrots, wine and garlic and is traditional to the north of Italy, but also in the central region of Tuscany.”

Regions have variations on ragu’, like in Bologna they are known to add a cinnamon stick to the pot’ o meat and in Tuscany, there are historical variations such as “ragu bianco” which was common during Medieval and Renaissance times, made without tomatoes since tomatoes did not become strongly apart of the Italian food repertoire until later.

A few ideas for making a tasty ragu’

finely chop your base (carrots, celery, onion and garlic) –add coarse salt to help pull out flavors of the base –marinate your choice of meat overnight in red wine, rosemary and whole garlic cloves. –Use good cookware/pans. Perhaps a sort of “dutch oven” for ragu’ sauces. I personally prefer to cook with cast iron, terracotta, glass ceramic or PFOA-free non-stick. -slow simmer for as long as possible. I’d say 6 hours minimum but I’ve gotten away with 4 hours in the past.

Recipe for the ragu’ (serves easily four people) adapted/inspired from this stellar recipe on the New York Times:

-1 pound of Elk sausage from Uli’s or your local butcher, or meat of your choice (wild boar, deer or even ground beef to be more traditional) Marinate overnight in 2 cups of red wine (like Chianti) and if its not already spiced, add rosemary and a few whole garlic cloves and a spoonful of mixed peppercorns.
-2 tbsps EVOO, or butter, as ragu’ in Bologna is cooked in butter! If you choose to use beef instead of a wild game meat, try butter instead
-1 of small-medium of each finely chopped: carrot, red onion, celery
(making sure all pieces are in equal, finely chopped sizes)
– coarse salt
-1 cup homemade jarred stewed tomatoes, chopped tomatoes which have been stewed down or tinned tomatoes
-2 cups water or homemade veggie stock
(I’d suggest using water and just pay attention to the salting of your carrot/celery/onion mix to bring out savor)
Fresh Tagliatelle (recipe can be found here)

Directions:

-If you decide to marinate the sausage/meat overnight, reserve the wine liquid, rosemary and garlic. You’ll use the wine later and I’d suggest chopping up one or 2 of those garlic cloves to add to your carrot/celery/onion mix. Heat the EVOO or butter on medium/high in your pot of choice then add the chopped vegetable base and add chopped garlic (from the marinade reserve) in after a minute. The garlic is optional.

-After 1 minute or 2, add in coarse salt. The intention is that using coarse salt helps the veggies “sweat” out flavor. This was taught to me by a good friend and amazing chef Melissa Miranda (formally at Florence’s Vivanda who unfortunately has no page other than an instagram handle @meltronica). Continue to saute’ until the vegetable base + garlic has cooked down its fibers and softened.

-Now add the meat and cook until slightly browned, breaking it up with a wooden spatula so that there are tiny grains of meat and not huge chunks. Add the leftover wine and stir occasionally. Keep flame/hob to a temperature that keeps at a roaring simmer but not boiling- don’t want to cook this too quick. Cook until all the wine liquid on medium heat has evaporated then lower heat to the lowest setting to prepare for the next phase: a semi-covered simmer add in your tomatoes and just half of the water or stock. I would suggest simmering like this for at least 2 hours. If the ragu’ appears dry, add some more water/stock or even more wine. Nothing wrong with more wine, right?

-After a couple hours of slow simmering, this is when the ragu’ might need to be watered and is a little dry so add the rest of the quoted liquid amounts and simmer for another 2-4 hours. Since this is a pretty small quantity of ragu’, it’d probably be okay with 4-6 hours total of slow simmer cooking.

Once done, mix in with freshly made tagliatelle in a large serving casserole so all the little bits stick to each strand of pasta- then plate! To add more nutty, umami oomph- grate on fresh parmigiano or pecorino.  Don’t have time to make fresh pasta? Buying fresh pasta is easier than ever in the stores and is so worth the extra bucks. It might be called fettucine, too. Tagliatelle comes from the verb “tagliare”, which means “to cut” and when referring to food, “to slice” so they are “cuts” or “slices” of pasta.

Wine Pairing: I spoke with a very dear wine expert pal Ciro of Le Volpi e L’Uva in Florence and he said this kind of dish requires a red wine with a lot of body, corposo, as they say in Italian. What does body mean? The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine says “body generally refers to the weight of the wine on the palate, and is correlated with alcohol levels in wine.” I would go on further to add that a dish like this, rich in fat and protein, would need a big body wine with austere tannins to cut through and elevate its fatty, savory meaty goodness.

All of these things considered, Ciro went on to suggest the following would be fine pairs: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino or a Barolo. Since I am obsessed with Tuscany and particularly Montalcino, I asked for a Brunello tip. The response was…drumroll please…2011 Brunello di Montalcino from Pietroso. Brunello wines from Montalcino are fascinating. They are made with a unique clone of Sangiovese (sangiovese grosso) which provide higher tannin levels in respect to Sangiovese clones grown in Chianti Classico. High tannin wines do best when aged to smooth out.

What then happens with age is that more ethereal, notes are released like earth, leather, spices and chocolate in combination with Brunello’s already elegant profile of violets and plum. Then it expresses the terroir it is home to: the high elevation, breezes from the ocean, hot and dry summers and mineral-rich soil makes for an extremely interesting wine. Brunello wines are higher in alcohol and from the right producer are beautifully balanced. Thus making it a winning pair for this decadent dish!

Any other wines you’d suggest? If you’d like to try this wine from Pietroso, you can find it at Le Volpi e L’Uva or join a food and wine crawl in Florence! Dive deeper into what “tannins” are, exemplify age with vertical tastings of differing vintages, demonstrate “terroir” by tasting wines from North to South, play with food pairings and more.

In your thirst for wine and hunger for mind-boggling food,

Curious Appetite

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