Beef and Pork Ragú: A hearty, meaty meal for yet another chilly weekend

by Terry B on May 18, 2011

Ground beef and chunks of pork are slow cooked with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, mushrooms and paprika to create a hearty, rustic ragú. Recipe below.

On a recent quick trip to New York, we wandered around Eataly, Batali and company’s bustling temple to all things Italian (New York magazine calls it the tourist trap locals love too). Roaming through aisle after aisle of pastas, Marion happened on a bag of calamaro—giant, sturdy tubes named for squid. I could tell by the way she smiled as she showed me the hefty noodles that she would come up with a perfect use for them. She did. I’ll let her tell you about it.

It is flat-out refusing to stay warm here. We have these occasional days that are, frankly, just hot, where after days of unseasonable cold it suddenly, spitefully, turns 85 for like one day. The warm weather comes on too abruptly to be any fun at all. We are inevitably at the office wearing too much, too thick clothing. We get home and the apartment is stuffy and hot. The cats stagger around, collapsing randomly here and there and glaring at us: I can go no farther—you did this to me. Then within a few hours huge storms wash through and the weather turns crazy cold again and just. stays. that. way. Tomato planting? Forget it.

This weekend, Saturday was blustery and chilly, with rain now and then but mostly when we were outside. Sunday was just plain mean. It was the sort of day to spend lazing around the living room in pajamas, chatting and reading and watching episodes of Death Note and remarking that the tree branches were certainly tossing around quite a lot, and getting up now and then to stir the big pot on the stove.

This is what we cooked: A huge amount of very meaty ragú, with lots of meat and red wine and plenty of vegetables and, in a hat tip to Trieste, lots of paprika too. We simmered it all for several hours, stirring occasionally, and then served it with the calamaro we got at Eataly a few weeks back. Of course, this tasted even better the next day, making it ideal to prepare ahead for a cool-weather dinner. Serve it with a good big red wine, a simple salad starter and some fresh fruit and cheese for dessert. Done.

Beef and Pork Ragú
Serves at least 6

1/2 pound ground beef
1-1/2 pounds pork loin, cut into small chunks and cubes
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes—don’t drain off the liquid
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 red bell peppers, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup carrot cut into thin coins
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bottle dry red wine
black pepper
olive oil

1 pound pasta (or a little more)

First, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a nonstick sauté pan. Cook the ground beef, breaking it up into small chunks until it is no longer red. Drain the beef on paper towels, then transfer to a heavy-bottomed stock pot.

Next, brown the pork on all sides in the sauté pan and add it to the big pot. Deglaze the sauté pan with a splash of red wine and pour the wine into the pot.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan. When it is medium hot, add 1/2 cup of the onion, all the garlic, 1/2 cup of the celery and 1/2 cup of the bell pepper to the pan and cook until the onion is translucent and limp, about 6 minutes. Add the paprika to the pan; cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Then add this mixture to the big pot. Deglaze the pan again with another splash of red wine and add the liquid to the big pot.

Add all the remaining ingredients except the mushrooms and salt to the pot. Stir everything together. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down very low so that everything simmers very slowly. At the start, there should be enough liquid to come up just to the top of the ingredients, not to cover them. (You can add more if you feel nervous—just take that into account at the other end of the process.) Stir occasionally—about every 15 minutes should do it to prevent sticking. After the first two hours, add the mushrooms, and give it all another stir. Keep simmering for at least another hour. I would say four hours is a minimum.

The ragú will be done when the liquid has cooked down so that the sauce is no longer soupy—you want it to be chunky, yet still wet, with the individual pieces clearly visible and everything all melded together into a wonderful fragrant whole.

When the ragú is about ready, cook the pasta according to directions. Drain it well and divide among shallow bowls. Spoon the ragú over the pasta, and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Can’t find calamaro? This dish would work with any hefty shaped pasta, like rigatoni or conchiglie—not with a linear kind.

What is the difference between ragú and sugo? Sugos are sauces in general, while ragus are a subset of them, characterized by plenty of meat and long, slow simmering.

And finally, you can adjust the amounts in the recipe to make a smaller amount, but why? We cooked the recipe as written the first night, except with just 6 ounces of pasta. We used 1/3 of the ragú for two servings. We divided the remaining ragú, refrigerating one half and freezing the other. We had the refrigerated half the next night. As for the frozen portion, I can’t vouch for its long-term survival.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Brewer May 18, 2011 at 4:09 pm

This dish looks really amazing! I’m not a huge pasta fan but I adore anything with a tomato based sauce, so I think I will make your sauce and serve it on bread or as a dip!

Cynthia Fox-Giddens May 18, 2011 at 11:20 pm

This dish is super hearty and I know delicious, Yum!

Marion May 19, 2011 at 1:11 am

Linda, that sounds like it would be really good with a nice crusty bread.

Thank you, Cynthia! And by the way, I buckled down and planted the tomatoes this evening and then surrounded them with hillocks of lawn clippings. It will just have to start getting warm sooner or later, right?

kitty May 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Yum, yum and simply yum!!
That looks like a dish I would delight in. Homey and rustic.

So glad you made it to Eataly! A little overwhelming, eh? I can’t imagine going there more than once a week.

Marion May 23, 2011 at 12:43 am

It was certainly intense! So many choices and so many choices about choices! Should we shop for pasta? Should we buy a book? Should we not shop, should we have some refreshments instead? If so, should we eat? If so, what? Pizza? Gelato? Zuppa di pesce? Should we sit at the raw bar? Should we stand at the enoteca? Should we not eat, should we drink? Should we have a cup of coffee? Should we have a liter of lurisia? Should we have a bottle of barolo? Ultimately we found ourselves rushing out into the street, having done only the first part of the above, arms laden with pastas and I don’t even recall what all else, blinking at the sunlight. What just happened? I guess we’ll have to go back and figure it out some more.

Charles June 3, 2011 at 7:44 am

We used the recipe last night with success.
As we don’t care for wine that much, I substituted dried prunes, cranberries and sour cherries for the additional richness of flavour.
Also as the meat, even the extra lean one that we use, already contains quite alot of fat, we refrain from using any oil.
Try it and you’ll be surprised.
The overall recipe worked well for us.
Naturally we finished finish the meal with our favourite Yemeni Matari coffee from The Tea and Coffee Emporium.
Thanks for the post and the opportunity to comment.

Mika Yamamoto June 9, 2011 at 4:18 pm

We made this for a casual dinner party and it was absolutely delicious! My husband said it is possibly the best pasta sauce he’s ever had.

Marion June 11, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Charles, we will definitely try it with those changes, which sound really good in their own right.

Thank you so much, Mika! It means a lot to know that. This dish really is am homage to my late Italian aunt, who was the greatest cook in our family.

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