This vegetarian Ragu has the richness of a long simmered traditional meat Ragu but of course, without the meat! It’s excellent over cooked pasta and can be used in any lasagna or pasta recipe. I made this discovery last year, during my dream vacation attending cookery schools in Tuscany and it’s become part of our regular menu at home. The sauce takes on a deep, brick red color during the cooking process and freezes beautifully, so I always prepare a big batch to have some waiting in the freezer for future meals. You can add extra vegetables – any kind of mushrooms would be wonderful, as well as diced zucchini or eggplant. Toss the heated Ragu through cooked pasta and top with a generous grating of parmesan cheese and chopped basil.
This makes approximately 5 to 6 cups. The recipe can be doubled for a larger batch. Don’t fret about exactly measuring the vegetables, whatever yield you get from your large onion should be matched by the joint combination of carrots and celery. A little extra of one vegetable won’t upset the recipe.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, finely diced (about 2 cups)* see note below
2 medium-large carrots, peeled and finely diced (about 1 cup)*
2 sticks celery, finely diced (about 1 cup)*
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or less if you prefer)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons Tomato Paste
1/2 cup Italian red wine
1 x 28oz can Italian Plum Tomatoes (I prefer Mutti brand but any good quality San Marzano style will do)
2 large sprigs of Basil (leaves should be left on stems)
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper to season
* If chopping is not your thing, feel free to use a food processor but take care not to over process or the veggies will become liquid and mushy.
You’ll need a 6 quart Dutch oven or large saucepan.
1. Heat oil in the saucepan over a medium heat and add onions, carrot and celery dice. Stir to combine and gently saute until they soften and the onion is translucent (about 8 minutes). Stir occasionally to ensure they don’t brown and adjust the heat as necessary.
2. While this is happening, puree canned tomatoes and the juice through a food mill set over a large bowl (see picture above) until all the tomatoes have passed through. Remember to scrape under the blade to remove all the puree and stir tomato mixture into the bowl. If you don’t have a food mill, begin by crushing the tomatoes through your fingers and then using kitchen shears cut up the tomatoes as finely as you can and incorporate into the tomato juice. You want very finely diced up tomatoes that blend in well with the juice. You could use a food processor but be careful not to over process the tomatoes.
A food mill is a gentler way of pureeing tomatoes and preserves their sweetness; it’s how they do it in Italy so it must be right! I think the flavor of canned whole tomatoes are better than pre-diced, which have something added to keep the dice from dissolving, but they can be used if you’re pressed for time. See notes at the end of recipe about food mills and other uses for it.
3. Add pepper flakes and minced garlic to sauted vegetables in the pan and cook for one minute or until the garlic is fragrant. Add tomato paste and stir thoroughly to combine. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes – the bright red color will deepen to a brownish red when it’s cooked properly. It’s important not to skip this step as tomato paste can taste acidic if not cooked down.
4. Stir the red wine into tomato and vegetable mix until well combined and cook for 2 minutes. The color deepens again – see below – as the alcohol cooks out leaving just the wonderful flavor of the wine.
5. Add canned tomato puree prepared in Step 2 to the pan, stir well and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the basil sprigs to the sauce, adjust the heat and leave to simmer so it gently bubbles away and thickens (about one hour). The Ragu reduces slightly during this time so stir occasionally to ensure it doesn’t burn or catch on the bottom.
After one hour, check the consistency – it should have thickened nicely and at this point you can season to taste and remove and discard the basil sprigs. It may take a good teaspoon of sea salt and about 15 to 20 turns of the pepper mill to season it well. The Ragu should have a rich flavor and be well seasoned so when added to cooked pasta, the whole dish will taste amazing. Add a tablespoon of chopped basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese (no funny smelling powdered “cheese dust and chemicals” in drums please) over the top and Mangi Bene!
A really useful cook’s tool that every kitchen should have. As well as pureeing tomatoes, it is excellent for pureeing baby food. Food mills usually come with three sized discs – Use the fine disc for homemade jellies, creamy sauces and baby food, the medium disc for applesauce and vegetable soups, and the coarse disc for mashed potatoes and chunkier sauces. I can vouch that it does a brilliant job of ricing potatoes for a smooth texture and the beauty being that you can fit in more potatoes than in regular potato ricers on the market. Check out the Amazon link below: