When the temperature drops below freezing shortly after the sun goes down, when conversations turn to broken pipes and black ice, when you find it impossible to get your toes warm, it may be time to make ragu.|

When the temperature drops below freezing shortly after the sun goes down,

when conversations turn to broken pipes and black ice, when you find it

impossible to get your toes warm, it may be time to make ragu.

A traditional ragu is not a tomato sauce. It is not even a tomato sauce

with meat, contrary to the multitude of bottled sauces bearing such names.

Rather, a ragu is a sauce of meat, poultry or a combination of the two and

finely diced vegetables simmered for a long time in one or more liquids, such

as water, milk, cream, wine, broth or stock.

Some ragus include tomatoes, some don't. However, tomatoes are never the

primary ingredient.

A traditional ragu, served with good pasta, is the sort of dish that makes

guests sigh with pleasure, especially when the weather is cold and the days

are dark.

It is just the thing in January.

I've made it twice in the past week or so and even its production is a balm

against the elements. As you work, you fall into a pleasant rhythm that is

soothing and warming.

If all the dicing seems like too much work, you can set up two or three

work stations and make it a group project. Once all the meat and vegetables

have been diced, the preparation goes very quickly.

It is essential that you have a good knife and use it properly. If you

don't have a good knife, you might treat yourself to one before you make this


I get most of my knives at Sonoma Cutlery and use Henckels Four Star and

Five Star lines because I like

how the handles feel in hand. It is crucial to have a sharp knife with a

comfortable handle when you will be using a knife for more than a few minutes.

If a knife is dull or uncomfortable, your hand will grow fatigued fairly


Once you have a good knife, learn to control it by holding the handle, not

by extending a finger onto the blade, which actually gives you less control

and is a bit dangerous.

And make sure you are using the right knife. Paring knives, boning knives

and slicing knives are not designed for chopping and dicing and will make the

task more difficult. If you have just one good knife, make it an all-purpose

chef's knife in a size that feels comfortable to you.

Once you have a good knife, more than this ragu will be easy to prepare.

Everything you do in the kitchen will be easier.

When I made this ragu in early January, I'd planned on asking my local

butcher to grind the chuck roast on a large blade. When he told me that if I

wanted 3 1/2 pounds of meat I would have to buy about 4 1/2 pounds because a

pound is left behind in the grinder, I decided to cut it by hand myself.

There's something about paying $5.99 for a pound of beef that remains at the

store that just doesn't sit right with me. As it turns out, I prefer the

hand-cut meat to the ground meat anyway. Cutting the meat in this way takes

some time, but if you have a good sharp knife that is comfortable in your

hand, it is a pleasant way to spend 40 minutes or so on a cold afternoon.

You will notice, of course, that there is a considerable amount of fat in

this recipe. Do not omit it. The fat contributes flavor, texture and essential

nutrients. You will spoon off some of it after the ragu has cooked; the last

time I made this I removed about 2/3 of a cup. The fat that remains is an

essential part of the sauce. You are not eating huge amounts of the ragu, nor

are you eating such a ragu often. When you do, enjoy the real thing. I like to

serve simple sauteed spinach alongside, which is a very nice foil to the rich


An Almost Traditional Ragu for a Cold January Night

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 to 3 1/2 pounds chuck roast

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces prosciutto or pancetta, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

2 yellow onions, cut into 1/4 -inch dice

3 to 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/8 - to 1/4 -inch dice

3 to 4 celery stalks, cut into 1/8 - to 1/4 -inch dice

-- Kosher salt

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

3 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste

3 cups beef or poultry stock

1 cup half-and-half

-- Black pepper in a mill

1/2 cup minced fresh Italian parsley

1 piece Parmigiano-Reggiano or Vella Dry Jack

1 1/2 packages fusilli col buco (long fusilli)

1 cup heavy cream

3 to 4 garlic cloves, crushed

Use a sharp knife to cut the meat into about 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch dice. To

do so, cut the meat into crosswise slices, cut the slices in half lengthwise

and cut the slices into small pieces. Do not trim away the fat. Put the diced

meat in a container and set aside.

Put the butter and olive oil into a wide, deep pot set over medium heat and

when the butter is melted, add the diced prosciutto or pancetta and cook for

about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the onions and cook until limp,

about 7 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, stir and cook until all of the

vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes more. Season with salt.

Add the diced beef and cook until it is evenly browned but neither hard nor


Add the wine, increase the heat to high and cook until the wine is nearly

completely reduced. Season with salt.

Stir the tomato paste into the stock and pour the mixture into the pot.

When the mixture boils, add a splash of half-and-half and lower the heat so

that the liquid barely simmers.

Cook for about 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the

liquid reduced. As the ragu cooks, add a splash of half-and-half and stir

every 15 minutes or so. When the ragout is very thick, remove it from the heat

and let it rest for a while, during which time fat will collect on its

surface. Use a wide spoon to scoop off and discard this fat.

To serve, fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, add 2 tablespoons

kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water reaches a

rolling boil, add the pasta and stir until the water returns to a boil. Cook

according to package directions until the pasta is just done. Drain but do not

rinse the pasta.

While the pasta cooks, pour the cream into a small saucepan, add the

crushed garlic and several generous turns of black pepper and simmer over

medium-high heat until the cream is reduced to just 1 cup.

After removing surface fat, return the ragu to a medium flame or burner and

heat through. Strain the reduced cream into the ragu, remove from the heat,

stir and correct for salt.

To serve, divide the drained pasta among individual pasta bowls or soup

plates. Sprinkle each portion with some of the Italian parsley, grate a little

cheese on top and serve immediately.



* To make the ragu with lamb instead of beef, use leg or shoulder meat. Add

a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, preferably Muir Glen or an Italian brand,

with the stock. Add 1 cinnamon stick and remove it before serving the ragu.

* To serve with homemade or fresh pasta, choose the broadest noodles,



''Mouthful with Michele Anna Jordan'' can be heard each Sunday at 7 p.m. on

KRCB 91.1 FM. E-mail Jordan at michele@micheleannajordan.com

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