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dinner italian pasta

Short Rib Ragu (Bolognese)

Low and slow short rib ragu, perfect for a special Sunday dinner or a holiday meal.

Merry Christmas Eve! This dish seeming fitting of the occasion.

I’ve edited this recipe many, many times. It’s one of those that seems to evolve as I do. I think I have a pretty good handle on it at this point, but knowing me… I’ll find something that needs tweaked down the road.

4 Lb short ribs

4 oz diced pancetta

1 medium onion, diced

2 medium carrots, diced

3 celery stalks, diced

1 ½ tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried thyme

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 Tbsp. flour

1 bay leaf

6 or 7 cloves of garlic, whole, skin removed

½ c sherry or other dry wine (Merlot, Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, you’ll have a slightly different outcome from each.  Choose your own adventure!)

8 oz can of tomato sauce

chicken stock – about 4 cups (1 quart)

heavy cream

Pappardelle or egg fettucine

Italian parsley, for garnish

Parmesan, for garnish

Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat oven to 300°.  Heat a large dutch oven over medium heat until very hot, then add a layer of neutral oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed or avocado oil.   Season the short ribs with salt and pepper, then brown on all sides in two batches.  I recommend starting with the skinny ends of the short ribs – the meat will begin pulling away from the bone as you brown the meat, and if you start on the meaty sides first, it will be difficult to brown the meat on the bone ends. 

When all 6 sides of the short ribs are browned on each piece, remove to a clean dish and pour out all of the fat, leaving the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. 

Brown the pancetta in the same pot, then remove with a slotted spoon to the plate with the short ribs.  Add to the dutch oven the carrot, celery and onion, season with salt and pepper, and sauté about 10 minutes.  When the veggies are soft and golden, add tomato paste, oregano and thyme, stir to coat the veggies, then add flour and cook for about 1 minute.  Deglaze pan with sherry/wine, add the garlic cloves, then return pancetta, short ribs and any accumulated drippings to the pan.  Stir in the tomato sauce and enough chicken stock to almost cover the meat, bring to a simmer and cover.  Place in the oven on the center rack and braise for at least 4 hours, until the meat is tender and has fallen off the bone.  After about 2 hours, begin checking periodically to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan, adding stock if necessary.  The end result should be very thick, but the meat will need enough liquid to be mostly submerged while cooking.

When the meat is done, remove the dutch oven to the stove top.  Pull out bones and discard.  Shred any pieces of meat that are larger than bite size.  Remove and discard any connective tissue, pulling meat off of it and returning to pot.  Stir in about 2 Tbsp. heavy cream, to taste. 

Cook only enough pasta for the servings you need that night.  Cook pasta according to package directions and reserve 1 cup of pasta water, in case you need to thin the sauce consistency at the end.  After draining the pasta, toss with a spoonful of sauce in each pasta bowl to coat before adding more sauce to desired amount.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and freshly grated parmesan.  Serve with warm crusty bread. 

Alternately, if you are feeding this to a large crowd, you can cook enough pasta for everyone, pulling it from the water two minutes shy of al dente, and adding it to the sauce to finish cooking prior to serving. You’ll likely need a splash or two of that pasta water here.  

Leftover sauce can be refrigerated up to a week.  I usually ladle the cooled sauce into freezer safe containers or bags (flatten the bags and once frozen, you can stand them on end like books.)  It sure is handy to have this sauce in the freezer for nights when you need comfort food but just don’t feel like cooking. 

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