A Ragù, of sorts

Today was a pasta kind of day.  You know those days.  It was rainy all morning and wet and even though it cleared up this afternoon, it just seemed like a day that was destined for noodles covered in sauce wearing some sort of delicious cheese.  We have pasta pretty often, though, and I wanted something not quite the same as the usual linguine or rigatoni with meatballs or meat sauce with ground beef.  So we went with a variation on the theme with a more traditional ragù.  Sometimes ragù is known as bolognese sauce, although traditional bolognese is made somewhat differently (served with tagliatelle or green lasagna and containing beef (sometimes pork or lamb), pancetta, onions, carrots, tomato paste, broth, red wine and sometimes cream or milk) and comes from Bologna, Italy.

So what did I do?

I went shopping.  I had to.  We were actually almost entirely out of pasta, which is very rare for us.  So on the way home from work, Josh and I headed to Busch’s and picked up a package of beef stew meat (I would have used a cheap cut of shoulder and chopped it up myself, but there were none), a can of crushed tomatoes, onions, a bag of shell pasta (conchiglie) and a small block of parmesan.  Including the cost of the pizza dough from yesterday to make garlic bread with, the entire dinner worked out to about $10 not including spices.  Woot!

Now, generally I can make a pasta dinner for the two of us in a half hour.  Tonight it was an hour and a half, and most of that was simmering the sauce to cook the stew meat long enough to let it start to melt into the sauce.  I’m a big fan of packaged beef stew meat for slowcooked meals.  It’s cheap, it’s delicious when properly seasoned, it responds well to long cooking times and hey, who doesn’t love the iron and the protein?  Vegetarians, that’s who.

Beef Ragu
feeds 4

1 pound beef stew meat, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp flour
1 small sweet onion, diced
3 large garlic gloves, diced
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
your favorite spice mix (I used my usual blend of cumin, paprika and ancho chile powder)
2 large thyme sprigs
a small handful of fresh basil leaves
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
olive oil
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp heavy cream or milk
2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
8oz pasta shells, cooked as directed on package
garlic bread
extra parmesan to garnish

Warm up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven or otherwise heavy cast iron pot.  Toss stew meat with flour, covering thoroughly (this will help with browning, as well as make the sauce thicker) and pour into pan.

Cook until browned and then add in garlic, onions, salt, pepper, spices and a quarter cup of water (or chicken stock if you have it available) to prevent sticking.  Stir thoroughly and cook until sauce reduces, about 6-7 minutes.

Add in thyme sprigs (the entire sprigs; you can remove the stem when the cooking is done; the leaves will eventually fall off and melt into the sauce), basil and brown sugar; cover and cook on medium low for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

When the meat is soft, use a couple of forks to tear any large chunks apart.  Add in parmesan and heavy milk, stirring thoroughly.  Finally, add in cooked pasta shells and serve, garnishing with extra parmesan and a breadstick.

Buon appetito!

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