Everyone needs a good basic ragu meat sauce and this one is a variation on the one our neighbor used to make when I was growing up. She was “Miss Nonna” to us and her husband was an angostura bitters importer which I thought was the ultimate exotic profession (and notable by its absence at my high school career day, but no matter.) She made good everything and the only change to this basic ragu is the optional substitution of port wine for red wine and the addition of fennel pollen.
So assemble your ingredients as below and let ‘er rip (but very slowly and on a low temperature).
- ¼ cup lard (or same amount of olive oil and three strips bacon)
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 1 medium carrot, grated
- 1 rib celery, chopped fine
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- ½ tsp. fennel pollen (or fennel seeds, or powdered fennel)
- 1 lb. ground chuck (or ½ lb. chuck & ½ lb ground pork or loose pork sausage)
- ¼ cup red wine
- a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes (or cayenne)
- 1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce
- ¾ cup water
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat lard in heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the vegetables and saute for about 5 minutes. If you’re using olive oil and bacon, mince the bacon and fry it in the oil till all the fat is rendered out. You can leave the bacon in.
- Raise heat to medium high, add beef stirring till it is broken up, about 5 minutes.
- Add spices & bay leaf.
- Add wine and stir till mostly evaporated.
- Add tomato sauce and water and cook over a very low heat for at least a couple of hours to three or four.
If you have it and are feeling adventurous, substitute in whole or part, ruby port for the wine. It’ll make the sauce a bit sweeter and richer.
If you're running a little short of ground meat don't worry. I've made this with about ⅔rds of a pound and it is plenty meaty.
Can add an optional anchovy. I usually do.