A great ragu needs time to transform from a pot of disparate ingredients into something whole, rich, complex and deeply satisfying. Picture: Tom McCorkle; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky
At its most basic, Ragu can be defined as a range of slow-cooked meat sauces typically paired with pasta.

Making Ragu is an artful, deliberate exercise that takes hours.  It is among the most iconic Italian dishes, and it is not an exaggeration to say that throughout Italy it is the measure of a good home cook.

8 tips for a successful Ragu
  • Use a heavy-bottomed pot, such as enamelled cast-iron, so the ragu can cook for hours without scorching.
  • Choose the best ingredients you can afford. Ragu generally calls for cheaper cuts of meat, but be sure the quality is superior. Look for unseasoned tomato puree and paste that tastes bright rather than aggressive.
  • Most Ragus start with sauteing aromatic vegetables - a soffrito. Chop these finely and uniformly, preferably by hand (a food processor tends to shred vegetables, which can prevent them from cooking evenly).
  • Brown ground meat for bolognese sauce slowly, over medium-low heat. The aim is to gradually bring out the rich caramel flavour without making the meat tough or dry. For southern Italian-style Ragu, season the meat before browning over medium-high heat to create a good sear. This will help to flavour the ragu.
  • Deglaze the pan with a good-quality, inexpensive wine and allow it to bubble off, leaving a pleasant acidity.
  • For Ragus that call for broth, especially beef, use homemade. Most commercial beef broth is harsh and tastes more of onions. Homemade broth contributes to the rich umami flavour and gives the sauce a silkiness that helps it to cling to the pasta.
  • Take note of how your Ragu changes as it cooks. The vegetables will soften and sweeten and eventually become one with the sauce. Tomatoes will mellow, and their colour will deepen to terra-cotta. The meat will give up its fat to further enrich the sauce and improve its texture.
  • Even when your Ragu is done, it's not yet finished. Let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate it overnight. This final act truly unifies the sauce. Reheat it gently on the stove top, stirring in a little water if necessary to loosen it. 
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