I love this pasta sauce. The oldest girl requests this when she comes back from school as it reminds her of home, and smells so delicious as it is slowly cooking. I have made an old Anna del Conte’s (A Gastronomy of Italy) ragù recipe my own. I tend to start the sauce off on the hob and then let it bubble gently away in the slow cooker all day so dinner time can be very easy and simply involve boiling a pan of water for some pasta to accompany it, and washing some rocket for an easy salad.
Ragù (with courgetti)
- 750g minced beef
- 250g block of smoked pancetta, roughly cubed
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 large onion
- 2 celery sticks
- 1 beef stock cube dissolved in about 200ml water
- 1 tbsp tomato puree
- 1/2 pint milk
- handful of herbs (thyme, bay leaves, or basil or oregano if you prefer)
- Remove the hard rind of the pancetta and reserve; chop the pancetta roughly and whizz to a paste in your blender.
- Peel and roughly chop the onion, celery sticks and carrots and add to the pancetta paste in the blender, blending again to create a vegetable mash.
- Heat a large heavy based (frying) pan and use the reserved pancetta rind as rendering.
- Once the fat has rendered, add the pancetta and veg paste to the pan and cook for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Add the minced beef to the pan and cook, stirring, until it has lost its redness.
- Add the dissolved stock cube and tomato puree, along with your preferred herbs and bubble for a few minutes while the liquid reduces a little.
- Cover the meat with half a pint or so of warmed milk, season and remove to the slow cooker.
- Cook on the low setting for 4 hours or more.
- When ready to eat, serve with plenty of freshly grated parmesan and the pasta of your choice, or courgetti (see below). Remember to remove the stalky herb stems and the pancetta rind which has added a richness to the sauce but is no longer needed.
You’ve probably heard of courgette or zucchini noodles or zoodles by now. They’ve been fêted internationally on Instagram for quite some time now, and the Hemsley sisters, amongst others, who write about nutrition for Vogue, have more recently promoted the use of a spiralizer in the UK.
In essence, a Spiralizer is a sort of mandolin that has a number of blades that can slice vegetables into interesting shapes. Courgettes, in particular, make a wonderful grain-free pasta, having a similar mouth feel and texture to it when paired with a pasta sauce.
As you can see, they “spiralize” into beautiful spirals which become coated with spaghetti sauce much in the same way spaghetti does. The only downside I find is that they can become quite watery when cooked, so it’s important to drain them well after cooking.
After spiralizing, I simply sauté the courgette in a heavy pan in some oil flavoured with a clove of garlic and a good pinch of chilli flakes. Once I have combined the courgette with the ragu, I tend to drain out any excess water again as the heat of the spaghetti sauce makes the courgettes release more of their water.