Ragù e polenta

Ragù e polenta
Ragù e polenta

😃 This is a guest post by none other than Devvers! 😃

The other Sunday we finally had time to do some slow cooking, and after looking through “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” by Marcella Hazan, we decided to make ragù and polenta.

For those of you which are not familiar with this book, it is an encyclopaedia of Italian cooking; there is a section talking about ingredients and techniques and every recipe is detailed and precise. It truly is kitchen essential, and definitely worth investing in.

The ragù took about four and a half hours to make, so it can’t be rushed. We served the ragù on top of the polenta and grated plenty of parmesan cheese on top – delicious!

So, to the recipes:

Ragù

Serves 4 generous or 6 average portions

Time: Four and a half to five hours

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 45g butter
  • 85g onion (about half a medium onion)
  • 3 sticks celery
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 350g ground beef, ideally as fatty as you can get – alternatively you could do a mix of ~100g pork and ~250g beef to get some fattiness into the meat (where all the flavour is!)
  • 250ml full-fat milk
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 500g tinned Italian plum tomatoes with their juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground nutmeg – just half a teaspoon or so

We decided to double up the ingredients to make plenty for the freezer!

A heavy cast-iron pot or enamel pot is perfect for doing this recipe, though a large, heavy saucepan could work. You need something that is big enough to cook this all down, with a thick enough base not to burn at the bottom and you are happy to let sit on your stove for hours.

You also need a wooden spoon for stirring, and a chopping board, vegetable peeler and sharp knife for preparing the vegetables.

Method

  1. Peel and chop the onions, celery and carrots.
    You can mix the celery and carrots if you want but keep the onions separate. Try to keep these to small dice, so that they cook evenly but aren’t too small that they disappear into the sauce.
  2. Put the butter, oil and onions and cook on a medium heat until the onions have gone translucent are just starting to turn golden. Don’t be tempted to rush this step – the idea is to slowly cook the onions so that they start to sweeten (but not burn!)
  3. Put the celery and carrots into the pot and cook them with the onions for 2 minutes, stirring and mixing so the carrots and celery get nicely coated with the oil, butter and onion mixture.
  4. Add the beef, a good pinch of salt and some grindings of pepper; break up the beef with your spoon so it cooks evenly and let it cook until it has lost the red raw colour.
  5. Add the milk and let the mixture simmer (bubbles that pop on the surface), stirring, until it looks like most of the milk has been absorbed / evaporated (note this takes a while); then you can add the nutmeg.
  6. Add the wine, and let it bubble away, like you did with the milk in step 5 (again, this takes a while).
  7. Add the tomatoes and stir through the mixture.
  8. Let the heat come back up so the mixture is bubbling – and then turn the heat right down to the lowest setting possible on your cooker, so that a bubble occasionally breaks the surface of the mixture.
  9. Let the mixture cook for at least 3 hours (Marcella says “more is better”). Do not cover the pot with a lid! Otherwise the condensation will go back into the pot and make the mixture watery.
    Keep checking the mixture from time to time and give it a good stir.
    If the mixture looks like it is drying out you can add a tiny bit of water, but try stirring first.

As this is cooking, you can decide what to have with the ragù with and we decided to make polenta. There is fast cooking polenta but Marcella does not approve of that, so we used the more traditional type.

Polenta

Serves 4 reasonable portions

Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • Salt – half a tablespoon
  • Polenta – 127.5g
  • Water – 875 ml

You will need a saucepan, a whisk, a large bowl and a wooden spoon

Method

  1. Take a large bowl, and fill it with cold water from the tap (not the measured cooking water)
  2. Put the measured cooking water and salt into the saucepan and heat it until the water is at a rapid boil (where the water appears to be rolling and bubbles form and explode rapidly)
  3. Pour the polenta slowly into the saucepan whilst stirring the mixture with the whisk, to stop the polenta clumping together
  4. Once all the polenta has been added, turn the heat down to medium and switch to stirring using the wooden spoon (rather than the whisk)
  5. Let it cook for 35-45 minutes – and keep stirring the mixture!
  6. To tell if it is done, the polenta will start to clump together again in a more solid mixture, and the edges of the polenta will start to come away from the edges of the pan cleanly
  7. Pour the water out of the bowl, and pour the polenta mixture into the wet bowl; let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes until it is set (until it quivers if you shake it)
  8. Turn the bowl upside down onto a flat counter – it will spread just a little and then it is ready to be cut and served

The polenta can be kept in cling film in the fridge for a couple of days. There is also a no-stir recipe in the cookbook which we might try next time!

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