Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author

What Rag​ù is Not

Ragù is not quickly made in a few minutes. This is slow-cooking meant to coax flavors out and blend ingredients together into luscious, soul-satisfying ragù. Simmer Italian ragù slowly on the cooktop or in the oven, usually for 1 to 4 hours depending on the main ingredient.

Ragù is not cooked in a shallow, broad pan. It would cook too quickly and the liquid would evaporate too fast due to the large surface area exposed. For optimum ragù, cook in a thick-bottom deep pot with moderate surface area forcing slow evaporation and gradual absorption of flavors.

Ragù is not chopped onion sautéed with ground hamburger meat with a can of tomato sauce poured over. Ragù usually begins with a flavorful vegetable soffrìtto, the foundation of ragù. Sometimes pancetta, prosciutto crudo, or other salumi is added to the vegetable mixture. Then hand-chopped, coarsely ground, or large main ingredients are added and sautéed. Add a splash of wine, some broth, water, tomatoes, or tomato passàta and all happily simmer together mingling juices. Very friendly cooking.

Ragù is not greasy or oily. Who needs oily sauce? This is extremely sloppy cooking, inexpensive to make, and covers the lack of decent ingredients. It overwhelms food to the point of being unidentifiable, and is a tragedy. Top quality butter and cooking oil are used in making ragù to protect ingredients and help prevent them from burning, to maintain moisture and prevent over-reduction, and are great conveyers of ingredients' flavors.

It is not a “quick fix” of a pasta sauce written on some restaurant menus as ragù. White wine with chopped seafood is not Ragù di Frùtti di Màre. It is not reduced heavy cream with a seasonal vegetable thrown in, such as pieces of steamed asparagus, and called Ragù di Aspàragi. These are standard pasta dishes with a high price-tag name for counterfeit ragù. Unless there is a soffrìtto and long cooking, it is just sexy to say the word. The allure makes it seem worth all that money the restaurant is charging you, when in fact, it is just plain expensive. Next time, make it at home. Add some candlelight, a good bottle of wine, and you will enjoy it more and save money.



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