Why Lindsay Bettles' Ragú Sauce Is Genius

Genius Recipes

A Genius Shortcut to Weeknight Ragù

This week’s Genius Recipe gives us a fresh, flavorful ragù for warmer weather—and does it really fast.

May  6, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


Ragùs are slow, meditative things, with a circus of vegetables and meats cut to bits and stewed for hours. Or, counterpoint: They’re not?

The first week of sheltering in place in New York City, former Food52 editor and current New York Times senior software engineer Nozlee Samadzadeh sent me a text: “I am eating the most genius and also quarantine-friendly dinner and the recipe comes from the blog of a baby website?” Having done my homework for me, she went on: “There are a few other tomato-bacon-fennel recipes on the wider internet, but not like this!”

Not like this! Photo by James Ransom

This recipe flouts everything we know about slow-simmered sauces, and seems almost destined not to work. To make it, you pile nearly every ingredient in a food processor at once (1)—two to three bulbs of fennel, plus bacon, garlic, and a few spicy influencers (fennel seeds, chile flakes, fresh rosemary needles). Then you briefly soften the finely-mulched bits in a pan, stir in canned tomatoes, and stick it in the oven for half an hour while you boil some pasta.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I jumped straight on this recipe, as I know a good ragu can feed the whole family for an entire week if you know how to store the ready made sauce in batches. I did exactly what you said here but made a few additions to the sofritto. I Hazan’d it with the addition of mutti tomato paste, wine that I burnt off and then milk before adding the tomato purée. It was truly magnificent. A few weeks before I made Massimo Bottura’s ragu in the sous vide and I think this has more flavour, perhaps not as elegant but heartier and stickier, which is great paired with a pasta that in this case was Trafila Di Bronzo Fettuccine. What I did find was that using a bigger saucepan would help with surface area for the battuto and a non-stick Staub is what I chose helping me get a little more surface area to sauté as opposed to stew the sofritto. I also let it ‘brew’ a little longer, for the heck of it in the oven for 2.5 hours. Grazie 💪🏽🙏”
— Robert M.
Comment

It’s like the speediest-possible mirepoix (or sofrito, battuto, and so on), with some flubber thrown in just to make it interesting for your Cuisinart.

I had so many questions. Wouldn’t this much fennel be overpowering in a tomato sauce? (No, not in the slightest.) Wouldn’t uncooked bacon (2) gum up the food processor? (Nope, thanks to an efficient blade and those vegetable buffers.) Wouldn’t we lose control over the exact shape of our chopped vegetables and meat? (Yes—but, as it turns out, this is a place we can relinquish control. Let’s seize the chance!)

Control is overrated.

That baby site where Nozlee stumbled on this recipe is the online shop and blog Babyccino, from their contributor Lyndsay Bettles, a recipe developer based in Dubai. Lyndsay’s mission, as she wrote to me in an email, is to encourage cooks to try new flavors in simple, stripped-back recipes.

“A lot of parents shy away from strongly flavoured vegetables like fennel and aren’t too sure what to do with them,” Lyndsay told me. “But there is nearly always a way to cook your vegetables so that kids will love them.” As a former picky eater and mom to a one-year-old with impressive strength for whipping noodles onto the floor, this gives me hope.

In this case, the anise-y flavor of fennel softens and sweetens extra-quickly after being pulsed into confetti, especially in the company of bacon, tomato, garlic, and rosemary. The sheer volume of vegetable matter also helps the sauce feel fresh and vibrant—similar in spirit to rich, burly long-simmerers, but with a welcome sunny glow.

There are lots of ways to love this sauce, which is handy, because it makes a generous amount. Lyndsay writes, “We love it tossed through pasta or combined with beans to make a wintry stew (with plenty of bread to mop up the sauce).” I’ve used it as a layer in grilled cheese, a pizza topper, a braising base for vegetables like zucchini and flavor-appreciating proteins like chicken breast and shrimp. I’ve also made it extra spicy, diavolo-style, before tossing with pasta and spooning crème fraîche over the top. We might need to ease the noodle-thrower into that one.

(1) If you don’t have a full-size food processor, you can still make this recipe! For years, I used a mini chopper for recipes like this (and just broke them up into many batches)—or you can hand chop it all while breathing deeply, which doubles as meditation.

(2) If you want to skip the bacon, Lyndsay recommends sausage, or ground beef or chicken instead—or even leaving out the meat entirely. If you make it meatless, it will need a bit more seasoning, and smoked salt (or smoked paprika) would go a long way.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to former Food52 editor, current New York Times senior software engineer, and forever star Genius tipster Nozlee Samadzadeh for this one.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Laura
    Laura
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
  • gwiz12345
    gwiz12345
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    vrinda
  • Martha Salazar
    Martha Salazar
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

45 Comments

Laura May 13, 2020
Kristen....great job on the home cooking. Did you know the word “migliore” means better or best in Italian, so be proud that you are the best😎
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 15, 2020
:) thank you, Laura. I did know that, but I didn't learn it till I was about 15 from a high school English teacher.
 
Rosalind P. May 12, 2020
So grateful for the non-pork options. Thank you! My family, well, hates fennel (although we love licorice). But I trust your guidance here: fennel loses its fennel-ness. I am going to try it with some ground meat and the smoky paprika.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 12, 2020
Yes, this recipe is not overly fennel-y at all, just fresh!
 
gwiz12345 May 12, 2020
I used the fennel-bacon mixture as a stuffing for pork tenderloin. Bacon added smoky, meaty, salty flavor, fennel lightened the stuffing, and rosemary, fennel, chili flakes was reminiscent of sausage.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 12, 2020
Great idea! Love finding new uses for this sauce.
 
vrinda May 12, 2020
whats that black cutting board for bacon ?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 12, 2020
It's this—I love that it's a small board I can stick in the dishwasher for when I want to shop meat or onions/garlic, since their scents can linger: https://food52.com/shop/products/6191-mixed-cutting-boards-set-of-3
 
Martha S. May 10, 2020
What type of food processor do you recommend? Thanks!
 
Laura May 10, 2020
I have a Hamilton Beach 12 cup. It’s awesome!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 12, 2020
I love my Cuisinart.
 
I'm going to try this over the weekend! I have fennel sitting wistfully in the refrigerator wondering when I'll get to her, and this is perfect. As a mostly vegetarian, I'll either add some liquid smoke, crumbled dried mushrooms, or just a little Better Than Bouillon to the mix. All are great for the umami bacon is so loved for!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 12, 2020
Good to see you, TheWimpyVegetarian! Your recipes introduced me to some of my favorite sides of fennel years ago.
 
Robert M. May 9, 2020
I jumped straight on this recipe, as I know a good ragu can feed the whole family for an entire week if you know how to store the ready made sauce in batches. I did exactly what you said here but made a few additions to the sofritto. I Hazan’d it with the addition of mutti tomato paste, wine that I burnt off and then milk before adding the tomato purée. It was truly magnificent. A few weeks before I made Massimo Bottura’s ragu in the sous vide and I think this has more flavour, perhaps not as elegant but heartier and stickier, which is great paired with a pasta that in this case was Trafila Di Bronzo Fettuccine. What I did find was that using a bigger saucepan would help with surface area for the battuto and a non-stick Staub is what I chose helping me get a little more surface area to sauté as opposed to stew the sofritto. I also let it ‘brew’ a little longer, for the heck of it in the oven for 2.5 hours. Grazie 💪🏽🙏
 
AlwaysLookin May 7, 2020
I'll stick to my tried and true all day long Sunday recipe ... just can't be beat, and the heck else are you doing, really?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
Fair point! (Well, actually I would say that I'm chasing my 1-year-old, but I know other people have more un-spoken-for time.) But it's nice to know about both options, isn't it?
 
Jason May 7, 2020
This is how my FAV meatloaf recipe starts....food processor veg/meat/mushrooms cooked down and added to meat with breadcrumbs and milk/eggs. Deliciious!!!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
Love it! Meatloaf always seems like a project to me, so that would help a lot.
 
Jason May 9, 2020
I made this last night YUMMM. didn't have fennel, but used Leeks and red/yellow pepper instead.....added tomato paste and anchovy paste after veg but before adding tomatoes.....depth of flavor was top notch....thanks for sharing your quarantine home videos!
 
Rosalind P. May 12, 2020
ALWAYS looking for another good meatloaf recipe. Suggested proportions please?
 
Rosalind P. May 12, 2020
ALWAYS looking for another good meatloaf recipe. Suggested proportions please?
 
Jason May 13, 2020
I use roughly the same proportions of veg...adding some dried and re hydrated mushrooms, or fresh sliced....with 1.5 lbs beef or beef/pork combo. If its too wet keep cooking veg before adding to meat, or add more breadcrumbs. No rules!
 
Jason May 13, 2020
PS....no tomatoes in the meatloaf base....just 1 tbs each tomato paste and anchovy paste
 
Alexandra S. May 6, 2020
Can't wait to make this! My food processor has never received more use than it has in these past few weeks. LOVE all of the flavors here.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
I'd love to know what other good stuff you've been using your food processor for, Ali!
 
Laura May 8, 2020
I used it last week to pulse cilantro, shallot and parsley for a beef stew made in the instant pot. It made the project so much easier. BTW....love your quarantine videos...they are so real!
 
Alexandra S. May 12, 2020
I love the shredder attachment! I use it for raw, golden beets, carrots, radishes, turnips ... so fast, and it makes bulking up a salad with vegetables so much easier.
 
Alexandra S. May 12, 2020
Agreed! So much fun :)
 
ellen May 6, 2020
Anchovies always make everything better! They are a natural salt. I use them in place of salt in many recipes where I can.
 
Marva M. May 6, 2020
I'n a chef and also lived in Italy for 13 years as an adult. The interesting thing about anchovies is that they add to the umami BUT without actually adding anchovy flavor - just a deeper, richer, rounded saltiness. People who say they do not like anchovies can't even pinpoint that anchovies are in the dish, most of the time!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
Agree—huge fan of anchovies whenever something is tasting flat.
 
Dana May 6, 2020
I grow only Italian Wild fennel that does not have the bulb. What proportion of fronds would you use instead? I realize the texture of the sauce will be diff too..
 
Valerie B. May 7, 2020
Wondering about this myself. Sorry to see there is no response.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
Hi there, thank you for your patience. I'm not familiar with working with wild fennel, so you'd probably know more about the differences than me. But I will say that the amounts here aren't critical—the bulbs I've used have varied quite a bit in size and it doesn't really matter, since the other flavors are more prominent.
 
Laura May 6, 2020
Kristen....love the recipe and the fact that it makes a lighter sauce. I wonder if adding a few anchovies would amp up the umami?
 
Camilles C. May 6, 2020
Yess absolutely! I was thinking the same thing or dried porcini if ppl have an aversion to anchovy.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
I love both of these ideas!
 
Steve May 6, 2020
This recipe piques my interest and my wife really likes fennel. I miss going to the supermarket for fresh produce, Only going twice a month now.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
I hear you. Hope you can score some fennel on the next round, and for now other vegetables you have on hand would likely work.
 
Lynda R. May 6, 2020
How well would this freeze, do you think?
 
Dana May 6, 2020
There’s nothing in this that wouldn’t freeze well! ESP if you have a non frost free.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
Thanks, Dana! I agree, and since it makes a lot it would be great to save some for a rainy day.
 
Rosalind P. May 6, 2020
Thank you, thank you, thank you for remembering us non-pork eaters and vegetarians. I use smoky paprika or even liquid smoke and try to make up for the missing fat somehow. Success uneven.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. May 8, 2020
Always happy to!
 
Rosalind P. May 12, 2020
I see I posted almost the same comment again. Isolation! Fried brains, loopy fingers. Sorry.