Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pappardelle al Ragù

PAPPARDELLE AL RAGU

As promised, here is the second Rome-inspired post (and right in the nick of time since Passover starts tomorrow night and it's bye-bye pasta).  While I've made pasta from scratch multiple times, and even some marinara, this was my first ragù.  Considering that the ragù alla lepre (rabbit) on pappardelle was the absolute best dish we had in Rome, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make this ragù reminiscent of that experience (without access to rabbit, of course).  I won't claim to have replicated the original dish, but Garrett and I were both very happy with the flavor...and we learned a lot about ragù-making along the way.

The first thing you should know is that this is a time-consuming recipe.  Ragù absolutely needs time to simmer and develop flavor, and there are no shortcuts.  It doesn't require your constant attention, but I was tasting and adjusting the seasoning about every twenty minutes.  The flavor after the first twenty minutes, compared to after the full two hours simmering, was very different.  Even then, I wish it was more rich and full-bodied, but I chalk up its limitations to the quality of meat and wine I was using.  While I used a combination of ground beef, pork, and veal, next time I would either go with just pork/veal, or try something a bit more gamey, like lamb.  Another option I would like to explore is using pancetta (instead of olive oil) as a cooking base for the vegetables, since I think a bit of smokey flavor would also contribute to the body of the sauce.

Of course, you do not need to make your own pasta from scratch to enjoy the ragù.  In fact, I made the ragù yesterday and tried it with some standard store-bought spaghetti and it was great.  I actually really liked added bite the dried pasta had, whereas the homemade pappardelle is very delicate.  I'll leave that up to you and your busy schedule to decide.  Some good news is that the time you'll take on this ragù will pay off in time saved throughout the week, using the leftovers to pull together easy meals with grilled vegetables or even a quick lasagna.      





Ingredients for Ragù (makes enough for 3 lbs. of pasta, so reduce quantities for single meals or freeze for later use):
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil 
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced or minced
  • 1 large carrot (or 1/2 cup), finely diced or minced
  • 2 celery ribs, finely diced
  • 1 lb. ground veal
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1/2 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 large can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup stock or water 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 tbsp. grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Pasta Ingredients (makes 4 servings):
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • lukewarm water set aside for kneading
To make the ragù: In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the diced onion until softened.  Add the carrot and celery, salt well, and cook for another 10 minutes until softened (but not browned).  Turn the heat up to high and add the meat and spices.  Brown while stirring frequently to keep the meat a "minced" consistency.
Once the meat is fully browned, add the tomato paste and honey and stir well.  Add the red wine and allow to simmer until the alcohol is cooked off (until you can no longer smell the red wine).  Then add the whole tomatoes with their juice (breaking them apart in your hands first), the puree,  stock/water, and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add the optional grated cheese, and allow to simmer for as long as possible.  Alternatively, you can transfer the pot to the oven and braise the ragù.  A minimum of 1 hour is needed, but 2 hours+ is really best.  
As the ragù simmers taste it regularly.  It will need lots of seasoning with salt and pepper along the way, but do this to your liking.  As it cooks you can also adjust the consistency and how "tomato-ey" it becomes.  For example, I ended up spooning out about 1 cup of the tomato liquid and replacing it with more wine and stock because I wanted a richer, meatier sauce.  It can also be additionally seasoned with more spices, if you prefer.  When reheating the sauce if storing for later use, adding additional salt and wine helped to "boost" the richness.  Always reheat on the stove top. 

To make the pappardelle:  On a clean, dry work surface, construct a well from the flour.  In a bowl, gently whisk the eggs, olive oil, and salt.  Pour the egg mix into the well of the flour and whisk with a fork while incorporating the flour.  Once the flour has been incorporated, knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding small amounts of additional water to keep it moist.  It is done when the dough is flexible/elastic and just slightly sticky to the touch (but it should not stick to your work surface).  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and allow to sit for 30 minutes before rolling out.
When ready, cut the ball of dough into quarters.  Using a pasta machine, roll out the quarters into large flat sheets (I went down to "level 2" thinness).  Pappardelle are wide, flat noodles, so cut them by hand into strips about 3/4" in width.  Place to the side on a lightly floured baking sheet until cooking.
To assemble:  Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil for the pasta.  Once boiling, heat 1 cup of ragù in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Flash cook a serving of pasta in the boiling water for about 45 seconds, and then transfer to the hot pan.  Finish cooking the pasta in the ragù so it absorbs the sauce.  Add some pasta water to the pan if it is looking too dry. 
Serve with freshly grated pecorino or parmesan on top.

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