A spaghetti recipe with ragu is a staple food preparation for many families in a wide variety of places. It can be an exceptionally easy meal to prepare, or it can be a complex and incredibly flavorful dish.
The beauty of ragu is that it is a sauce made of minced vegetables and finely chopped meat, usually in a tomato sauce base. Spaghetti with ragu makes a hearty main dish that can be stretched to feed a hungry family or to include unexpected guests.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a ragu is robust, highly seasoned Italian sauce of meat and tomato, customarily served over a bed of pasta. It usually has ground beef and minced vegetables added, especially onions, carrots and celery.
The term “ragu” first appeared the early 1950s, and is thought to be a corruption of the French word “ragout”, which is a slow cooked, flavorful stew of meat and vegetables.
A ragu is distinguished from a ragout by the heavy reliance on tomato as a main ingredient, fine mincing the vegetables so that they blend with the tomato base, and by the seasonings that are used in it. A busy homemaker can purchase a bottled ragu sauce from the local grocery or department store, but a well-constructed homemade ragu is far superior to “store-bought.”
While there are certain things that should appear in a ragu, the selection of ragu sauce ingredients can be individualized by personal taste and availability of local or seasonal produce. For example, green onions or young scallions are a good spring addition, but in the autumn or winter, a chopped onion might be more available. In some cases, dried, powdered or granulated herbs and spices can be added to enhance the flavor of the sauce.
Although it is usually a meat and vegetable sauce, ragu can be vegetable based. While ground beef is frequently used as a protein ingredient, other kinds of meat can be added. Sausage that has been well drained, dried or cured meats such as ham or summer sausage.
A ragu meat sauce should be flavorful, with a thick vegetable base and complimentary spices and herbs. A sausage ragu will have a different sort of flavor from one that has only beef added. In fact, it can be interesting to combine different kinds of meats for a variety of flavors.
Ingredient selections will affect the ragu calories, as will the spaghetti to sauce ratio.
An Italian spaghetti and ragu recipe can be a highly creative dish. Not only can the cook vary the meats and vegetables included in the sauce, but the there are a wide variety of noodles or noodle substitutes that benefit from a homemade ragu sauce.
The basic spaghetti noodle is usually made from wheat flour that is shaped into long noodles, or a variety of other shapes. This is just fine for many people, but it can be a problem for people who are allergic to gluten or who have a sensitivity to wheat products.
Allergies and focus on restricting calories makes finding other types of noodles interesting. While wheat is the most common, noodles can also be made from rice, corn, amaranth, oats, buckwheat, and other sorts of flour. Spaghetti squash can also provide a viable base for a ragu sauce, although you will probably want a more delicate sauce for it since this string-like vegetable has lighter flavor than spaghetti and can be overwhelmed by a regular ragu sauce.
Even within wheat noodles, there is a wide variety of noodle types. Each shape interacts just a little bit differently with the sauces. For example, the standard, long spaghetti noodle almost resists the sauce, allowing it to slip in between the strands of pasta.
Another common shape is elbows, which encourages the sauce to flow into the tube of the pasta shapes. Bow-ties are a fun pasta shape, as are molded shapes such as alphabet shapes. You might not think of them as spaghetti, but they are a similar material.
Two special types of noodles are ravioli and tortellini. These are filled noodles. Ravioli are made in little squares that are filled with things such as meat, cheese, veggies, and even delicacies such as shrimp. Tortellini is also filled with a variety of goodies, but they are shaped more like rings. Adding a complementary ragu sauce brings out the flavor.
How to Make Spaghetti with Ragu
The Ragu Sauce
There are probably as many different ragu sauces as there are cooks, but there are basic steps. They begin with fresh, good quality ingredients. This can mean a visit to the supermarket or farmers market, or it can mean walking out into your own garden.
Here is an idea of basic ingredients for Ragu sauce.
- 10 – 15 pounds of tomatoes
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 bunch green onions
- Bundle parsley
- Fresh basil
- Dried bay leaf
- 2 pounds of ground beef
- Salt to taste
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Blanch the tomatoes. To do this, boil a large pot of water. Wash the tomatoes in cold water, then place them in a wire basket and dip them in the water and leave them in the boiling water for one minute. Lift the basket of tomatoes out of the water, let them cool slightly and then peel. The boiling water loosens the skins and they peel off easily.
2. Cut the core and any bad spots out of the tomatoes, quarter them and place them in a blender or food processor, and puree. Set the tomato puree to one side.
3. Peel the large onion, and chop it into small bits. Alternatively, you can use shallots for a milder onion flavor. Peel, then crush the cloves of garlic.
4. Place the olive oil in a heavy frying pan. Add the chopped onion, garlic, about three tablespoons of fresh basil, ¼ cup fresh parsley, spices such as thyme, oregano, tarragon, or rosemary to taste. Add 1 bay leaf (do not crumble). Sauté until the onion is transparent.
5. Place the pureed tomato and the sautéed vegetables in a large cooking pot, heat to boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for about two hours. Stir often, and keep a close eye on the mixture to keep it from burning. When the mixture has finished simmering, look for and remove the bay leaf.
You can now freeze any sauce you will not use immediately, or you can preserve it in jars using a pressure canner.
6. If you plan to use all or part of the sauce right away, the next step is to prepare any protein you wish to use as part of your meal, and to begin cooking the pasta.
A delicious meat selection, and an easy one, is Boston grind. This is a mixture of ground beef and pork that does not have any added seasonings. It tends to have a flavor that is a little more robust than fresh pork but is usually a little moister and more flavorful than just plain beef.
7. Set the water to boiling for the pasta. Prepare your selected pasta according to package directions. You will want to prepare a serving or two more than the expected number of people who are expected to dine. This makes sure that there is enough food to go around. If there are leftovers, you can use them as fried spaghetti the following day, or simply heat them up as a snack.
8. Bring the sauce you plan to use to a simmer. Meanwhile, brown the meat until there is no pink showing. Drain off any excess oil, and add the meat to the sauce. Allow it to continue to simmer to give the flavors a chance to meld.
If you prefer a vegan or vegetarian dish, cube tofu and lightly brown it in the heavy skillet.
9. When the water for the pasta boils, add a tablespoon of olive oil or butter. This keeps the pasta from sticking to itself, and also adds a little more flavor.
10. Clean and chop the green onion and the remaining parsley. Set it to one side.
It’s important for pasta to reach ‘`al dente’
11. When the pasta has reached al dente, that is it is tender enough to cut with the edge of a spoon. This is important as it creates pasta that is the perfect texture for eating. Place a large colander or strainer over a bowl. Pour the pasta into it, allowing the cooking liquid to flow on through it, leaving the cooked pasta in the colander.
12. At this point, you can serve the pasta separately from the sauce, or you can combine them. Not combining the sauce and pasta gives greater options for using any leftover spaghetti in other dishes. On the other hand, the sauce will help keep any leftover pasta from drying out.
An easy way to serve the pasta and sauce is to allow each guest or family member to dish the amount of pasta they wish to eat, and then adding the desired amount of sauce, and finally sprinkle chopped green onion or parsley on the top to finish the dish, as desired. Freshly grated parmesan cheese is another frequently used and extremely tasty option.
If you choose to add the sauce to the pasta, and to then sprinkle the garnish over the top of it, this will not prevent your using any leftovers the following day. There are a variety of tasty ways to heat and serve yesterday’s pasta dish as a refreshed planned-over.
Optional ingredients and textures for your ragu sauce
Traditional ragu sauce is smooth. The vegetables are minced small and incorporated into the tomato base. This provides a way to disguise vegetables that are less acceptable to your family members, such as small amounts of broccoli.
If your family likes vegetables, you can add undisguised vegetables to the basic sauce. Sliced mushrooms, broccoli, baby corn, cubed squash or sugar pod peas are excellent options for adding texture, flavor and nutrition to your ragu sauce.
You can create a creamier texture to the sauce by adding small amounts of milk and cheese to it. The proteins in the milk or cheese lighten and smooth the tomato texture, making it almost like a good tomato soup.
Your Spaghetti Pasta
You can further add to the originality and flavor of your spaghetti pasta by making it yourself. It does not take long and it isn’t hard. It is nice to have a pasta maker for the flattening and cutting, but you do not even absolutely have to have that.
Pasta is a simple thing to make, and does not even take very long to make. You will need 2 cups of flour to three eggs. Mix, then as the dough becomes stiffer, knead as much flour as possible into three beaten eggs. Divide the dough into four parts. Place the lump of dough on a floured board and use a rolling pin to flatten it.
You can then either feed the dough through a pasta maker to shape the dough or you can simply cut it into strips using an ordinary table knife.
If you wish, you can shape the pasta dough into squares that are large enough to accept a teaspoon of filling. Place the filling on a raw square of prepared dough, then place a second one over the top of the filling, and crimp around the edges to create your own ravioli.
Although the seasonings listed above are the traditional Italian seasonings that will give the distinctive spaghetti flavor to your dish, you can experiment with other sorts of seasoning combinations. It is thought that the methods for making pasta came to Italy along the trade routes from China. Therefore, what could be more natural than using a curry or more Eastern spice combination?
Bring a little New World flavoring to your sauce with cumin and other peppers. Try balancing out the traditional Italian flavorings with a Tex-Mex twist that doesn’t quite turn your ragu into fire-breathing chili con carne.
As you experiment, you need only keep in mind that a spaghetti recipe with ragu focuses on a pasta base covered with a well-blended sauce made from tomatoes, other vegetables, spices and the protein of your choice.