About this time every year, I return to one of my favorite cooking rituals: making the weekly ragu. On Saturday I go to my local farmers market and peruse the meat offerings; there's ground pork, lamb and beef, excellent turkey and turkey sausage, as well as more unusual items like pheasant and goat. Each week I aim to pick out a different meat (or combination of meats) for my next ragu.
When it comes to pasta sauce, I'm a fan of simplicity. There's really no need to make more effort than what's required to execute a rough chop, and once you get a rhythm down, you can have your sauce simmering on the stove, making your kitchen smell like an Italian mama's, in about 20 minutes. A few small details -- well-browned meat, excellent canned tomatoes, wine, fresh herbs -- make all the difference, and if you incorporate them you'll rarely be disappointed.
Even though I'm usually cooking just for two, I always make a big batch of ragu at the beginning of the week. The first night I usually serve it over pasta, but it reappears throughout the week in different guises: meat sauce gets tastier over the course of a few days, and it's delicious spooned over a baked sweet potato, roasted winter squash, soft polenta or even grits. If you're feeling really lazy, you can mound some sauce on two toasted English muffin halves, grate a little parmesan on top and broil the muffins until the cheese starts to bubble.
Makes about 6 cups
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 pounds ground meat (beef, lamb, pork, turkey, sausage, etc. or a combination)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2/3 cup dry red wine
- 2 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, with their juices
- 1 handful fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, etc.)
- Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)