Italian braised beef and pork ragu
This is a rewarding dish to make. At the end you get a real kick out of the flavour that has developed – the sophisticated, robust braise. There is real satisfaction in the way the pork and beef are balanced, the way the crust on the meat almost has the quality of barbecue, and the undertones of that much fennel and nutmeg. This recipe is from many, many years of cooking and refining ragu. It takes a lot of the principles of a big restaurant batch and makes them work at home.
There are lots of recipes like this, but they all have too much tomato in them. I wouldn’t call this a red sauce. It’s a stock-based ragu, flavoured with a stain of colour and a hint of acidity from the tomato.
The flavour gathers momentum and intensity as it gently braises in the oven, and once tender and just starting to fall apart, it’s done. The skin on the pork is meltingly soft and adds a luscious, velvety mouthfeel to this sauce as it slickly coats fresh pasta.
A few hints. Pay attention as you brown the meat. You want to push the deep colour but you want to make sure you don’t burn it. It all has to do with the temperature of your stove. At the end you want a residual crust on the pot, like a bark, which will be key to the flavours that develop. As you add the vegetables and onions, the sweat will deglaze the pan. In this dish I prefer to do this rather than use wine.
When you do add wine, use a wine you would be happy to drink. It doesn’t have to be outstanding, but if it’s awful the dish will be, too.
The large chunks can be tossed through with wide-cut egg pasta – either as is, or with the meat shredded a little, but not too much. With a ragu like this I really crave fresh pasta. It’s worth the effort to roll out wide sheets and cut a gorgeous, super-fat pappardelle. It can also happily be served with mashed potato or polenta, in which case there is no need to break apart any of the beef chunks.
Serve it with finely grated parmigiano reggiano. The sauce deserves it and so do you.
Time: 3.5 hours preparation + cooking (+ overnight marination)
- 1.2kg chuck steak
- 750ml nebbiolo
- 500g boneless pork belly, rind on, cut into 10cm lengths
- 150g pancetta or guanciale, cut into lardons
- flour for dusting
- flaked salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 2 onions, finely diced
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 celery stalks, finely diced
- 2 carrots, in 2cm dice
- 300g tomato passata
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 nutmeg finely grated
- 4 cups hot chicken stock
- 10g soaked porcini mushrooms
- 4 x 10cm rosemary sprigs
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 1kg pasta al ceppo (or paccheroni or pappardelle)
- parmigiano reggiano
- The night before, pour the red wine over beef in a dish and place in the fridge.
- In a wide, extra-large, heavy-based casserole dish, cook the pork belly over a high heat, adding salt as it’s cooking. Toward the end of browning the pork, add the pancetta and cook for three minutes. Remove and pour out half the rendered fat.
- Take the steak (reserving the wine) and dice into 8cm cubes, big enough to leave lovely long strands of beef in the ragu. Dust with flour.
- Add the beef in batches at a medium heat, seasoning heavily with flaked salt and pepper. Sear on all sides until well browned and crusted (two to three minutes a side), adding oil as you need it. Don’t rush this step. Set the seared beef aside.
- Pour off the oil and wipe out the pot, but leave in any caramelisation, unless it’s burnt.
- Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot and cook until caramelised (about 15 minutes).
- Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the passata and the fennel seeds, bay leaves and nutmeg. Cook for five minutes.
- Add in all the meat. Cook for three minutes, stirring constantly so it does not burn. Add the wine, scraping up any residual caramelisation. Reduce the liquid by a third.
- Stir in the hot stock and porcini mushrooms. Return to a simmer.
- Add rosemary and thyme but do not stir in. Place the lid on the pot and bake in the oven at 165ºC for two hours. Remove the lid and cook for another 20 minutes.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water.
- Take the ragu out of the oven, breaking it up slightly with a fork, and serve over pasta with grated parmigiano reggiano.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 23, 2023 as "Ragu to riches".
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