Make Ahead

Weeknight Ragù

January  9, 2010
3 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten
  • Makes about 6 cups
Author Notes

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 ragù 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. —Merrill Stubbs

What You'll Need
  • 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.)
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
  1. In a large, heavy saucepan heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. When it just begins to smoke, add the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Add a big pinch of salt and some pepper and brown the meat well, stirring frequently. (Make sure to use a big enough saucepan, or the meat will boil instead of browning.)
  2. When the meat is a good hazelnut brown, lower the heat to medium and add the onion and another pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so, until you start to smell it. Deglaze the pan with the wine, stirring and scraping up all of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
  3. When the wine has reduced by half, add the tomatoes, crushing them with your fingers as you drop them into the pan. Add the herbs (leave the sprigs whole—you can remove any stems and big leaves later) and the red pepper flakes if you're using them. Bring the sauce to a boil, lower the heat and partially cover the pan so that the sauce is simmering gently. Let the ragu simmer away happily while you do the laundry, clean the bathroom or watch an episode of The Wire (for half an hour at minimum, but ideally an hour or two). The sauce is finished when the meat has become nice and tender, and the tomatoes have broken down, but the more you cook it, the tastier it will get. (If the ragu starts to look dry at any point, just stir in some water.)
  4. Remove any herb stems, taste the ragu and add more salt and pepper if necessary. If you like, you can stir in another splash of wine before serving to amp up the flavor. Spoon over pasta, vegetables, polenta, grits, risotto—pretty much anything that will stand still.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • ECMotherwell
  • JadeTree
  • Jestei
  • SMSF
  • helicopterina

16 Reviews

cebcebceb March 29, 2018
This recipe became a staple in my weekly dinner arsenal from the very first time I'd made it. The ragù's robust and opulent flavour is betrayed by the minimal effort required to prepare this sauce.

It's great fun to toy around with the versatility of the recipe: sliced crimini, fennel seeds, parmesan rind, a small splash of lemon, and dried oregano/basil have become common additions to Merrill's base as written here.

I've found it most optimal to prepare the basis of this recipe in the morning, transferring into the slow cooker at the deglazed/reduced stage to simmer for hours. This allows additional time for the fragrant herbs to truly permeate the sauce -- which, by the way, holds its texture remarkably well throughout this process.
AMM January 18, 2018
I grew up making this sauce, and it is a favorite. I sometimes add sliced mushrooms to the meat, or a pinch of cinnamon. If you have more time, you can cook it down (and add water when needed), just as you would a traditional bolognese. It only keeps getting better!
CBMillet October 1, 2015
This is currently on the stove and smells amazing, but I'm curious what size pan you recommend... I used my largest Le Creuset and still felt like the meat boiled instead of browned. (There was a lot of liquid and there were no brown bits to deglaze). Was a pan with enamel interior a bad choice? (I used a mix of beef and pork, if that makes a difference). Thanks in advance!
ECMotherwell November 19, 2014
This sauce ROCKS. The recipe is perfect, too, balanced, simple, always getting you there. Thank you, Merrill!
cschaefer September 3, 2013
I cannot say enough good things about this recipe. This is way more than a simple "weeknight ragu".... it is a flippin sauce revolution. I practically plopped my face in my bowl upon first taste and had I not run out of things to sop it up I would still be there to this day. YUM. I appreciate the suggestion at the end of the recipe to spoon it over "pretty much anything that will stand still." My husband and I did just that and ate the same sauce all week over noodles, rice, & bread. Oh, and my at-that-time-8-month-old daughter ate it right along with us all week.
The J. February 13, 2013
This sounds delicious! I made a braised beef ragu in my slow cooker this week, but maybe I'll try your recipe next time.
iamadesertcreature October 28, 2012
This has really been excellent. I made this to go with homemade fusilli, which takes forever to make (lots of fun though), and I had a lot left over. I was looking around my kitchen and asking if I really wanted to make another batch of pasta midweek when my eyes lighted on a couple of lonely hamburger buns stashed in the freezer. Ragu, whole wheat buns, and melty cheddar.... a match made, if not in heaven, then in the kitchen of a very grateful cook. Kudos for an awesome recipe!
JadeTree October 15, 2012
I've been on a Food52 bender the last two weeks and this was one of the biggest hits. It is certainly in the weeknight rotation now since browning the meat is the only real time commitment! And since my rosemary is hardily flourishing on the back steps, we make it with rosemary and thyme branches. This also was the anchor to a great Sunday supper for friends and no one could get over it - I've sent them all links to recipe. I bumped up the proportions by about a third and that was great for seven adults and three kids. Thank you!
Jestei June 17, 2012
another winner from merrill. i love this.
SMSF November 1, 2011
Merrill, since you don't drain the fat after browning the meat(s), do you find this sauce is greasy at all?
helicopterina September 14, 2011
Just found this recipe and made it this week, prior to putting together a lasagna tonight. It is easy and DELICIOUS!!! I just used 4 fancy schmancy little d'artagnan sausages as the meat element -- probably not as much as the 1.5 pounds called for in the recipe...but it was still rich and spicy and delicious and beloved by my 13 yr old and my husband. Thanks, Merrill!
Merrill S. September 14, 2011
You're so welcome! Great idea to use d'Artagnan sausages.
liamoran January 10, 2010
I loved this recipe. It is so easy, and I was able to get a lot of housework done while waiting for it to simmer itself into oblivion. I have already passed this recipe onto several other people. Thanks!
Merrill S. January 10, 2010
You're welcome! So glad you enjoyed it.
mrslarkin January 9, 2010
Yum. My favorite pasta sauce. Bolognese. I like adding chunks of celery and carrot to mine, to cook right in with the sauce. Had some for dinner tonight over fettuccine. And this sauce with polenta - such a great cold-weather dish. Or layered into lasagne.
shayma January 9, 2010
mmmm, with polenta, now that is heavenly. i accidentally ate some ragu with polenta, i say accidentally bec it had pork in it (i dont eat pork). but it was SO GOOD. in persian cuisine we make an omelette with ragu. as you've pointed out, the permutations are endless.