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    How To Make The Perfect Ragù… and what wines to pair with it.

    How To Make The Perfect Ragù… and what wines to pair with it.

    Posted on 22 October 2020

    When the nights draw in and the temperature drops, we all hanker for comfort food.  Luckily, for fans of all-things-Italy, pasta ragù has got you covered.  It’s warming, nutritious, full of energy, and - arguably just as important – pairs with some fantastic wines from up and down the country.
    For many people outside of Italy, the term itself, “ragù”, won’t mean that much.   In Britain, the fame of Spaghetti Bolognese has become its very own culinary juggernaut, a common site on every menu of every pizza and pasta joint from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  In Italy, however, Bolognese sauce, or Ragù alla Bolognese to give it its full name, is just one of the regional variations of ragù.  It’s also nearly NEVER served with spaghetti, but more on that later!

    Ragù, in its simplest definition, is a meat-based sauce commonly served with pasta although with lots of regional differences.  The base for the sauce is usually tomatoes but can be stock, wine, cream, or even water.  The meat used also varies depending on where you are in the country.  In Piemonte in the North West, or in Marche in the East, traditional ragù in autumn would include wild boar or cinghiale.  In the South, however, it’s common to find spicy sausages or simply the joint of meat intended for the course after the pasta course to be cooked in the sauce to add flavour.

    Whether north, south, east, or west, one thing is for certain.  A pasta ragú is naked on a dinner table without a glass of wine on hand.  One of the fantastic things about the variety of ragù on offer across Italy means that you can really have fun with the wine pairings, usually based on the meat used and the base for the sauce, but also on the regional herbs and spices added.  There’s lots of exploring to be done!

    Below are some top tips for you to make mouth-watering ragù this winter, as well as a simple recipe, and some fantastic wines from the Libiamo cellar to enjoy along with.
    Buon appetito e cin cin!

    5 Top Tips For Ragù

    ragu vegetables

    1. The Holy Trinity
    Ragù is widely accepted to come from the French “ragoût”, and where French cooking goes, the Holy Trinity is always in there in the background.  No, we’re not going religious on you all, don’t worry.  The Holy Trinity in cooking terminology is used for a sauce base of carrots, celery, and onions.  Every great ragù starts with this base.

    ragu pasata

    2. Chopped Tomatoes or Passata?
    Many versions of ragù use tomatoes as a liquid for the sauce.  It’s a large component of the dish.  It matters, so use the good stuff.  Supermarket bought chopped tomatoes for 25p a tin is not a complete disaster, but if you can find it and afford it, look for jars of high-quality passata.  Also, don’t use too much; the meat is the star of the show, you’re not making a tomato soup!

    ragu garlic

    3. Vampires Welcome
    Garlic and chili.  What to say about garlic and chili?  Firstly, this is your food, so you should cook it how you want.  Italians, however, use a lot less garlic and chili (southern areas a bit more) than you might otherwise think. In fact, some Italian food manufacturers make two recipes of sauces, one for the Italian market, and one for export that has more garlic in it!  Use garlic by all means, and if you like chili heat then use that too.  But for the authentic Italian taste, go easy on both.

    ragu pasta

    4. The Pasta Is NOT an Afterthought
    We could write an entire article on how to choose, cook, and serve pasta.  But don’t panic, we won’t!  What we will say though, is you want use pasta with a good surface area to soak up the sauce.  This is why tagliatelle is very common, and spaghetti is nearly never used.  It’s also part of the dish, not a side order, so make sure you finish cooking the pasta in the sauce and mix well before serving.

    ragu beef

    5. Play Around With The Meat
    Beef mince has become synonymous with anglicised Bolognese sauce.  But, as we’ve said already, there are many different types of meat used across Italy.   Beef and pork are popular, but why not try duck, or game, or even turkey which is fantastic meat for taking on flavour from the sauce it cooks in.  Whether minced or in chunks or even left as a whole joint of meat as in the southern states of Italy, you can also play with the different textures.   

    Our Favourite Ragù Recipe
    This simple recipe is a foolproof method of preparing a classic meat ragù for you and your family at home.  There are, as we’ve said, many versions of ragù, so feel free to experiment once you have the basics covered.

    Ingredients:

    • Olive Oil: 1 tbsp
    • Onion: 1large, finely chooped
    • Carrot: 2 large, finely chopped
    • Celery: 2 sticks, finely chopped
    • Garlic: 1 clove, finely chopped
    • Beef Mince: 600g - TIP lean mince is ok, but a bit of fat with help the sauce
    • Red Wine: 125ml -TIP: use decent wine here, arguably the wine you intend to serve it with.
    • Thyme: 2 or 3 whole leaves
    • Bay: 1 or 2 whole leaves
    • Tomatoes: 400g chopped or passata
    • Beef Stock: 400ml or a stock cube
    • Tagliatelle: 600g fresh

    Method:
    1) Place a large saucepan or casserole dish over medium heat and add the olive oil

    2) Once the olive oil heats up, add the onions, celery, carrot, and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until softened and beginning to colour.

    3) Add the beef mince, separating the meat amongst the vegetables in the pan and cook on medium heat for 10 minutes or until brown.

    4) Add the wine, thyme and bay and infuse for 5 minutes before adding the tomatoes and beef stock, and mix thoroughly.

    5) Reduce to low heat and leave to simmer for up to an hour as the meat cooks and the sauce thickens, adding salt and pepper along the way to your taste.

    6) Towards the end of the cooking, prepare the pasta by boiling in water for two minutes, then drain and add par-boiled pasta to the sauce, mixing in gently so as not to break the pasta, and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce.

    7) Plate up and serve.


    Wine Pairing With Ragù

    ragu wine pairing

    A classic meat ragù, like the one above, can be paired with many Italian wines, but we’re going to pick out three favourites from the Libiamo cellar for you to enjoy.

    Brunello di Montalcino DOCG “Rio Cassero” by Cantina Caparzo, Montalcino, Toscana
    A classic Tuscan favourite, made from the famous Sangiovese grape.  The Sangiovese grape is famous for its tannic structure, generous acidity, and its tomato leaf aromas, making it a perfect pairing for tomato-based stews.  The “Rio Cassero” from Caparzo also enjoys 3 years ageing in Slovenian oak barrels and another year ageing in bottle before release, adding a density to the structure that works really well with the meat and stock in the sauce.

    Barbera D’Asti DOCG “Solo Acciaio” by Montalbera, Castagnole Monferrato, Piemonte
    “Solo Acciaio” means “only steel” and Montalbera are deliberately looking to avoid oak flavours and show off the purity of fruit you get from top Barbera grapes.  Barbera is the meat and drink of grapes in Piemonte, with good acidity, and long hang time on the vines giving full flavour, colour, and structure and notes of plum and cherry.  The full body but refreshing finish make it a great pairing with this winter warmer dish.

    Lagrein Gries Riserva by Cantina Terlano, Terlano, Trentino Alto-Adige
    Lagrein is not a wine grape many will be familiar with but is a local hero in the region of South Tyrol in Trentino Alto-Adige.  A red wine grape, it can produce wines with good acidity, tannic structure, plum fruits and a mineral edge.  Cantina Terlano’s Riserva has spent 12 months in oak barrels, a mixture of large and small, in order to smooth out the tannins, leaving a full-bodied but fresh red wine; a perfect lift for this warming pasta dish.


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