Pasta and Ragu pt.2

July 2, 2011

Pasta Dishes

What could be easier a little herbs some tomatoes bit of garlic…no problem. Right?  Yeah… not so much.  Let’s just say the first attempt at making my own sauce was less than stellar.  OK, let’s be honest here it was what we will call a “learning experience” which is code for  flop.  The Husband was neutral on it, which is never a good sign, when he says it is “OK” that is his way of saying “I’m eating it aren’t I?”  I do have to say I am very lucky as he rarely ever says that so I must be doing something right on the whole.  Now you KNOW  I could not allow the “It’s OK” comment to stand so off to the kitchen I went to perfect this sauce.

There is something good that came out of my being on med leave from work for 3 months and it is this sauce.   Almost every Monday my stock pot was on the stove bubbling away with tomatoes, herbs, garlic and wine perfuming the whole house by 7am.  I learned something almost every week as I worked on this sauce the big one being while Campari tomatoes make a fantastic sauce they are #1 WAY to costly to use in these amounts and #2 Are to watery to cook down into a nice thick sauce.  So avoid the pit falls I have already fallen into and just use the Roma tomatoes. IF you have time and funding by all means try out the Campari tomatoes.  The sauce will have a more pronounced sweetness and will be much thinner but man is it a good sauce.

Those of you who know me in real life and who get frustrated when I always say “I don’t know, I don’t measure I just…” have M.L. to thank for forcing me to finally measure when making this sauce.  Now be forewarned this makes a good bit of sauce but you can take the basic recipe and reduce the amounts for a single meal. I would rather make a larger batch, divide it up and freeze it to have when I am ready so that I don’t have to gather up all the ingredients and start from the beginning every time. While this recipe takes a lot of time you are not babysitting it all the time just cruse by and give it a stir ever so often.


15 lbs Roma tomatoes

4lbs Ground Chuck

4 med yellow onions

3 bulbs garlic (NOT individual cloves)*

1  3/4oz pgk each of the following fresh herbs Thyme, Oregano and Marjoram

2  3/4oz pgk of Fresh Rosemary

1 c. shredded carrots

1 bottle red wine (I use any of the following~ Shiraz, Merlot or Cab Sav.)

4 Tb Olive oil

1 Ts Kosher salt

2 Tb Fresh coarse ground Black Pepper

1/2 c dried Italian herbs**


2Tb Honey powder

1 qt Baby Bella Mushrooms

*Yes the whole thing not just three small cloves, and no I have not lost my mind nor do I live with a vampire I am trying to avoid.

**M.L. and I had a conversation on homemade vs store-bought ingredient with a different recipe and I am evoking my right to not reinvent the wheel on this item.  For those of you  in the Lexington KY area head over to Bella Note on Nicholasville RD and ask them of a large container of Herbs, it should cost  you about $5.  I have gone back and forth over deconstructing this “herb-y” goodness and unless they go out of business why bother.  The cost of the individual herbs would far out weigh the end result.

In a very large heavy stock pot (minimum 18 qt, mine is  22 qt) pour in olive oil.  Rough chop  3 of the onions and set aside. Peel and removed the stem end of the garlic cloves and mince the garlic, (the finer you mince it the more garlic flavor you will have) you should end up with aprox. 3/4c of minced garlic.  Turn on the heat and allow the oil to get hot then add the onions, carrots and salt to the pot to saute, once the onions are translucent toss in the garlic. Be careful to not allow the garlic to burn or you will have to start over from the beginning.  Burnt garlic is nasty!

While the onions, carrots and garlic are doing their thing quarter the tomatoes from pole to pole.  You can rough chop them if you like but there is no need to get that involved.

Toss all the tomatoes into the pot stirring in the onion mix to get it off the  bottom of the pan.  Add the bottle of wine, black pepper and the fresh herbs on top.

Now doesn’t that look good…

Now we come to the long part, cover the pan and allow the tomatoes to cook down by at least half, this will take anywhere from an hour to 2 hours depending on your stove.  I have a high-powered cooking eye on mine so its takes me about 1 1/2 hours. The tomatoes should look like this when they are just about ready to removed from the heat. Sorry about the steam making the photo fuzzy…

When you are close to the end of the initial cooking down of the tomatoes brown off  and drain your ground chuck.

For the next step you need to decide if you want to use a food processor or a food mill.  Personally I don’t like any of the seeds or skins in the sauce so I just use a food mill to separate them from the pulp.  No matter which way you go you will need to remove the stems from the fresh herbs, they are visible in the photo above.  If using a food mill you won’t have to pick them out as the mill will not allow them to pass though the holes.  When using a food mill don’t forget to scrape the bottom screen to obtain the pulp of the tomatoes and not use the juice. The photo on the right shows what is left when you are almost done processing one batch through the food mill.


This is the end result of using a food mill on the tomatoes

OK now that you have processed the tomatoes its back into the pot along with the ground chuck, last onion diced, optional sliced Bella mushrooms and dried herbs for the longer simmering.  I don’t have a specific time for this part but you will know when it is thick enough.  Be sure to stir more often than before as you don’t want to burn the bottom.   Once you have cooked down your sauce to the thickness you prefer.  You should have approx. 6-8 qts of pasta sauce in the end depending on how long you simmer down the sauce.

This sauce is perfect for lasagna in conjunction with the pasta recipe posted earlier this week.  Depending on how thin you roll your pasta there is no need to pre-cook the pasta.  I roll mine out to a #2 or #3 for Lasagna so I can cut out the pasta cooking step.

Now go play with your food.



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3 Comments on “Pasta and Ragu pt.2”

  1. Hungry Neophyte Says:

    First of all…the world is a better place!
    I like the layout of the blog. Great descriptions and nice pictures.

    Regarding the sauce…Thanks. I have been experimenting with pomodoro and marinara sauces for the last 3 months where less is more. I can’t wait to flex the ole kitchen muscles and give this Ragu a try.

    There is obvious purpose for all the ingredients and cooking methods and I have a few questions to pick your brain and palate…
    The carrots are unique. I have not seen too many sauce recipes with this orange friend.
    Once cooked down, what does it add to the sauce? I assume a sweetness?

    Have you tried this with a spicy sausage instead of beef?



    • wikijancooks Says:

      Yes you are correct, the carrots are there to add a bit of natural sweetness, they also lend a bit of “earthiness” as well. They round out the sauce as it were. Once everything hits the food mill you never see them. I have gone back and forth with them and found that while there are not many carrots there the sauce seems a bit lacking if I leave them out.

      As for the sausage I have used a sweet Italian sausage as well as a thinly sliced pepperoni both of which work quite well with the profile of the sauce. The pepperoni was in the lasagna I dropped off a few weeks ago. If you are wanting to experiment with a different type of meat to play with the flavor profile then I would just divide up the sauce leaving out the beef and go from there. I would add a “teaspoon plus” of red pepper flakes if going the spicy route to kick things up a notch….but you know me “subtle” is not my strong point.




    • wikijancooks Says:

      Hungry Neophyte…

      I wanted to revisit this conversation as I was kicking around a few ideas in my head on different meats after discussing this topic with you. With the substantial-ness of this sauce before the addition of the ground chuck you also give lamb a try. I think the gaminess of the lamb would be well set against the acidity of the tomatoes in this application.

      It would need to be simmered for a few hours to allow for the breakdown of the connective tissue in the lamb so that it would break apart and become tender or you could use ground lamb to cut down on the time needed to simmer the lamb in the sauce. You could toss the lamb and sauce in the Crockpot in the morning then break the chunks apart right before serving. You would have to use a stout pasta like rigatoni or a linguini which will hold onto the sauce. Your basic spaghetti/angel hair would allow the sauce to just fall off the pasta leaving you with little on your pasta.

      Hmmm now I am intrigued to see if it will work as I think it will. I may have to recruit you and Mrs. H.N to be guinea pigs…The Husband is not a fan of lamb.



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