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Let's Discuss Italian Ragu


Kevin72
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Made ragu bologenese tonight for dinner with my friend Miles! He uses tomato sauce instead of canned tomatoes, and likes a lot of carrots in his base (for the sweetness). It was delicious - I bought the ingredients and made sure to get 1/4 lb. ground pork and 3/4 lb. ground chuck, and I think it made all the difference from his usual, 1 lb. of ground sirloin.

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As I noted above, I construct ragu often.  From the slow, slow cooking emphasis from the above post, I am lead to wonder if ragu could be made in a slow cooker, say, overnight or all day.  Any opinions?

I don't know exactly how a slow cooker works (here in Italy we usually don't use it) but I've forgotten one "rule" in my previous post: it's important to stir ragù quite often.

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Megan, that's a beautiful picture! I am sure the switch from sirloin to chuck made a difference.

And Judy, I am curious to learn if there were any ragus that you find at all unusual in the recent issue of an Italian magazine.

While I do not have the wide variety of Italian cookbooks that I would like at home, this thread inspires me to try a recipe for duck ragu that I found in Mimmetta Lomonte's Classic Sicilian Cooking since I have eaten a number of rich sauces in Italy based on stew meats, but only cooked alla Marcella. The ingredients include dried porcini, garlic, fresh sage, red wine and tomato paste.

I also found a rather fussy recipe that calls for a ragu bolognese in Italian Cooking in the Grand Tradition by Jo Bettoja and Anna Maria Cornetto. It's called Palle di Fettuccine al Ragu; I wonder if it was created for the Medici in honor of the family's coat of arms or stemma.

In any respect, the cook is instructed to prepare a white sauce and cook either tagliatelle or fettuccine for half the usual time. The two are mixed with Parm., cream and, yes, butter, then chilled. After several hours, the lump is divided into very compact balls the size of oranges and stuffed with Gruyere and a bit of truffle paste before being coated with egg and bread crumbs. After THESE are chilled for a longer period of time, they're deep-fried, mounded on a platter and served with the ragu!

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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  • 2 weeks later...

here are my notes on THEIR ragu's..

I did not go through my reference books to check on the authenticity,

As is mentioned above, every region has their ragu and within the regions as many variations as there are mamma's!

Ragu variations as per Sale e Pepe November 2005

Sicily

Beef cut by hand ( ca carni capuliata)

Onion, celery with leaves.

Red wine.

Canned tomatoes

Parsley, basil

Cheese: Aged Pecorino

Pasta: torchietti

Umbria

Rabbit bone in.. cut into pieces

Carrot, onion , celery and garlic.

Canned tomatoes

Broth

Remove rabbit, remove bones and chop meat.

Cheese: Pecorino and pepper

Pasta: Lasagnette

Sardegna

Sausage

Onion

Canned tomatoes

Saffron

Basil

Cheese: Pecorino

Pasta: Riccioli

Fruili

Pork shoulder, ground

Butter

Cinnamon, cloves

Water

Finishing: ricotta affumicata, beaten eggs, pepper

Pasta: Campanelle

Naples

Lamb shoulder

Pancetta

Garlic

White wine

Chili pepper

Water

Finishing: remove lamb and bone it.

Cheese : Grana Padovana

Pasta: Spaghetti alla Chittara

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Ragu variations as per Sale e Pepe November 2005

....

Naples

Lamb shoulder

Pancetta

Garlic

White wine

Chili pepper

Water

Finishing: remove lamb and bone it.

Cheese : Grana Padovana

Pasta: Spaghetti alla Chittara

Judy, sorry to say this, but "Sale e pepe" is not a source I would consider to be very reliable. The Neapolitan in me just rebels at the mention of lamb, WHITE wine, chili pepper and especially spaghetti alla chitarra.

Neapolitan ragu is made traditionally only with pork cuts, be it fresh bacon, sausages, short ribs, or other braising cuts, garlic and onions, RED wine, and, if you want to be traditional, conserva di pomodori, sun dried tomato concentrate, which is unfortunately a rare find today (most people use industrial concentrate).

Most important of all is the pasta: it just HAS to be ziti, broken by hand... maybe smooth penne if you're lazy or cannot find ziti. But chitarra? No-no, that's from Abruzzo.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I only mentioned the article...not that it was a bible.

I think that Italians also want new ideas.. and that was what this author wrote.( Paola Volpari)

was just following up on ideas for ragu...

for sure there is nothing classic here....

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again.. not classic.. todays lunch I cleaned the fridge..

Soffrito of carrot, red onion and celery sauteed in olive oil, with a touch of garlic and a pinch of chili pepper.

Hand chopped pieces from my cleaning a whole beef filet, and some minced pieces of spalla from an artisan butcher in Greve.

Canned tomatoes, salt, cover and let cook.

Thinned with some pasta water towards the end.. and then I tossed in the cooked Tortiglione ( a new pasta with ridges also on the inside... and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Buona Domenica!

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While being stationed in Naples, Italy, I had the fantastic opportunity to befriend quite a few of the locals there. Once they found out I was a cook, a whole new world opened up to me. One of my observances was, there is NO SUCH THING as the "right" way to make anything (at least in southern Italy)! I truly believe that families have gone to war with each other over the "right" or "wrong" way to make any dish. LOL. However, it is my firm belief, that most Napolitani use pork and/or lamb in thier ragu. The pork butt/lamb cooked in the sauce and then sliced as the Secondo Piatto with a little of the sauce over it. OTTIMO!!!! And almost always served over tagliatelle. Thank you for indulging me and my random thoughts.

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My florentine sister in law.. ONLY makes stracotto, cooked in a meat ragu, then serves the sauce for the pasta... and the stracotto sliced with the meat sauce on top.

We only get it on holidays!

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I only mentioned the article...not that it was a bible.

I think that Italians also want new ideas.. and that was what this author wrote.( Paola Volpari)

was just following up on ideas for ragu...

for sure there is nothing classic here....

Judy, sorry, I didn't want to sound too harsh. I have to admit the few times I read Sale e Pepe I was always disappointed by the content and so I have no problem admitting I'm biased against them. Nothing personal :smile: .

While being stationed in Naples, Italy, I had the fantastic opportunity to befriend quite a few of the locals there.  Once they found out I was a cook, a whole new world opened up to me.  One of my observances was, there is NO SUCH THING as the "right" way to make anything (at least in southern Italy)!  I truly believe that families have gone to war with each other over the "right" or "wrong" way to make any dish. LOL.

While I can agree that there isn't a unique right way to do things when it comes to Italian regional recipes, I would also say that claiming there is "no right way" to cook a recipe is rather short sighted. There might be many familiar variations, yet there always is a general consensus about what a general dish should and should not have and what variations are allowed. People might fight over onions in the sauce for Amatriciana (or Matriciana as Romans call it); ask if cream or peas go in the sauce and everyone will agree that neither should be used.

Let's be honest, if there was "no right way" to make a recipe there'd be little sense in giving recipes out or giving them names at all. The recipes can be fuzzy and difficult to pin down exactly, but at least an ideal concept of what a dish should contain is there.

However, it is my firm belief, that most Napolitani use pork and/or lamb in thier ragu.  The pork butt/lamb cooked in the sauce and then sliced as the Secondo Piatto with a little of the sauce over it.  OTTIMO!!!!  And almost always served over tagliatelle.  Thank you for indulging me and my random thoughts.

This surprises me a lot, which is not to say I don't believe you. I've lived in Naples over 20 years and have tasted loads of Neapolitan ragu and have a pretty extensive ragu recipe collection: I've never tasted one with lamb, nor served with tagliatelle.Your description makes me wonder if the people who prepared the ragu for you were actually born and raised Neapolitans ir if they came from the areas of Benevento or Avellino, or even the Molise Region.

In Naples lamb is definitely not a popular meat, except during Easter. Tagliatelle, and pasta fresca in general are used so seldom in Neapolitan recipes that you could count the recipes using them on the fingers of one hand: in Naples pasta is almost inevitably the dried durum wheat one. On the other hand both lamb and fresh pasta become more popular the closer you get to the Appennini mountains, and the colder the climate becomes.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I am also a neapolitan and I have something to say about the RAGÚ...

The Ragú is only neapolitan... the other sauce should only be called Bolognese.

The first record of ragú is on neapolitans cookbooks of the 19th century.

I have to correct Alberto about the meat cut, but this may be due to the fact that each "mamma" has her own version of the king of the sauce in Naples. Even though most neapolitans prefer pork meat cuts like "tracchiolelle (spare ribs)" o "Gallinella (the knukle)", originally the ragú was made with top rump or silverside of beef. The best modern versions call even for a mixture of Beef and Pork, including the cuts above as well as sausages.. My Grandmother does it with a mixture of Pork and Beef including "cotica" (pork underskin), which she prepares as stuffed rolls...

I do agree with Alberto on the other things he said as well as Ziti (and I had Fusilli) being the best pasta, Red wine (aglianico) and the COnserva...

Also the lamb is not used for Ragu in Naples and even as meat in general. Most commonly actually we prefer Goat (actually Kid), which we do consume on Easter (my family also consume free range kids on Christmas lunch)

Edited by Pizza Napoletana (log)
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Originating from the French word, ragout, the Italian ragu, from what little I know, has come to distinguish a meat sauce from any region from a sauce based on vegetables, or a sugo.

I am a little skeptical when it comes to assuming that the very first reference to a ragu in a published cookbook would mean that the city or region of the publication produces the only authentic ragu. It may be that is the first appearance...if this is true...of the foreign word adapted by Italians.

However, the kind of dish that ragu represents just makes a whole lot of practical sense to produce from scraps of this and that, well before the introduction of the tomato to Italian cooking. By the 19th century, I am guessing--but do not know for a fact--there were probably many regional versions of a meaty thing one plopped on top of pasta...or flattened bread dough, polenta...or stuffed into rice balls, etc. Again, I lack the expertise to do more than guess.

Therefore, I would be interested in learning more about the source of your knowledge, P.N.

Now as to the use of lamb in ragu in Naples, what I found in a google search was a cookbook by Arthur Schwartz:

Naples at Table

Perhaps someone familiar with the book might wish to address its reliability.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I can’t vouch for the authenticity of Schwartz’s writings and research in this area, but here’s what he says. He offers two “master” ragu recipes, one mixing cuts of veal, pork, and beef, canned tomatoes, and red wine. The other is one he calls a more old-fashioned, traditional recipe with just pork and tomato paste. Both use only onion for the sole aromatic. Of the technique, he writes:

You can make a ragu, according to these directions, with any kind of meat . . . The kind of meat used depends on locale, as much as on the philosophy of the cook. In the province of Benevento, for example, cooks use at least some lamb, if not all lamb (they also might use garlic instead of onion, or both).  In the high Cilento of southern Salerno province, and the Monti Alburini . . . capretto (baby goat) or castrato (castrated old goat) ragu is made . . . Finally, everywhere in the region, pork sausage may go in a ragu.  Ragu made with ground meat, as they do in Emilia-Romagna for ragu Bolognese, is called ragu di macinata in Campania.

Here’s what Lynne Rossetto-Kasper offers in her own research on the origins of ragus in The Splendid Table:

Italy’s stews shared many characteristics with France’s ragouts of the same period [17th-18th centuries].  Considering the centuries of exchange between the two countries, Italy’s stews and France’s ragouts probably influenced each other.  The important questions are: When did Italy’s stew become a ragu?

Kasper then relates how the court of Louis XV annexed Parma and the citizens of these region and surrounding areas became enamored of the French styles and customs. French cooks were brought in, and at the time, ragout was quite the fashionable dish in their native country. So when did Italians pick it up and start cooking for their own nobility, and when did they start using it to sauce pasta? She continues:

. . . The first record of someone doing just that was in the late 18th century when Alberto Alvisi, cook to the Cardinal of Imola, near Bologna, made a sauce called a “ragu for maccheroni” . . . After 1830, ragus appear frequently in Emilia and Romagna cookbooks.
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A 19th century source is very late. "Ragout" is quite an culinary important term in the history of English cooking as well, as it became popular from the late 17th century as the new style of modern cooking was imported from France. In the end it became symbolic of the good food of England being replaced by fashionable French food by elite diners.

From 18th century Scotland we have this gem:

Is there that owre his French ragout[b/]

Or olio that wad staw a sow,

Or fricassee wad mak her spew

Wi' perfect sconner,

Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view

On sic a dinner?

Basically the French dish had become extremely popular in the 17-18th century, but I would think that some Italian dishes were around before this and just borrowed the name.

Roughly translated it says that foreign food sucks.

Getting back to Italy, I believe that there is another ragu from Naples "ragu genovese"?

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Getting back to Italy, I believe that there is another ragu from Naples "ragu genovese"?

Not exactly. Just "La Genovese", it is not considered a ragu. It's a braised dish of meat and onions (and a few extra secret ingredients :wink: ) which, like Neapolitan ragu, is used both as pasta sauce –in this case the resulting onion "cream" you get at the end of the long cooking– and as meat main dish.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I was infact specifically referring to the word ragú and not rogout from which it share the same root (as many other word in Neapolitan as well as I am sure you can find many reference on the greek, Spanish and french influence on neapolitan cooking).

However the Ragú is completely different from a ragout:

1-Ragout is made with monton/lamb

2 Ragout It doesn't involve a tomato sauce

3- Ragout consist of the addition of many vegetable

etc...

Not all meat sauce are called Ragú in Italy(infact only the neapolitan one), this seams a corruption that has happened in the English translation.

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Ragout has many forms, not just lamb, as ultimately it was more of a garnish then anything. That is the meaning of the orginal french term really. In the more degenerate forms you see in English cookbooks this idea tends to be lost.

One mid-18th century English cookbook has a recipe for "Tete de Veau au ragout melee" (Calve's head with mixed ragout). In this case the ragout consists of sweetbreads, bacon, eggs, poultry liver, testicles, sauce, parsley and lemon juice.

The point being that if the earliest reference to "Ragú" is 19th century, then it is very late. I find it hard to believe that the Italians are 200 years behind the English in terms of a cooking term.

Maybe the exact spelling of "Ragú" did not appear until this late date (I doubt it though), but there should be earlier variations. In English there are numerous variations on how this term is spelt, until it settled on "ragout".

Regarding "Ragú" in Sicily, I have a recipe here for "Ragú Siciliano delle Feste". May or may not be real, depending on the Italian you ask. :wink:

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Adam,

The same things as Ragú (but without tomatoes) was cooked in Naples for a very long time and it was called simply "Stufato". The earliest version of the Ragú I am talking about (let's call it Napoletano), was written around 1830 (from being cooked by the neapolitan population to the time it finally appeared on a cookbook you surely agree that it may have past some times...) and was almost identical to the modern one (probably with the exclusion of the randered pork fat that people do not use for healt concern).

The word ragout and a version similar to the French one was surely available at the table of nobility in the neapolitan kingdom, where French cusine was a posh thing...

My point being that the earliest document of the SAME RAGÚ, including being a tomato sauce, was written in the eraly part of '800.

You would also surely know that the way French words are adapted in English follows a different route that the ones adapted in Italian (refer to the many rexplenations in the Oxford dictionary), with Italian having the strongest link to Latin.

Ciao

(please refer to cookbook written in Italian that mention so many Ragú as well as written on this forum because I still believe that this is an invention of English writers)

Ragout has many forms, not just lamb, as ultimately it was more of a garnish then anything. That is the meaning of the orginal french term really.  In the more degenerate forms you see in English cookbooks this idea tends to be lost.

One mid-18th century English cookbook has a recipe for "Tete de Veau au ragout melee" (Calve's head with mixed ragout). In this case the ragout consists of sweetbreads, bacon, eggs, poultry liver, testicles, sauce, parsley and lemon juice.

The point being that if the earliest reference to "Ragú" is 19th century, then it is very late. I find it hard to believe that the Italians are 200 years behind the English in terms of a cooking term.

Maybe the exact spelling of "Ragú" did not appear until this late date (I doubt it though), but there should be earlier variations. In English there are numerous variations on how this term is spelt, until it settled on "ragout".

Regarding "Ragú" in Sicily, I have a recipe here for "Ragú Siciliano delle Feste". May or may not be real, depending on the Italian you ask. :wink:

Edited by Pizza Napoletana (log)
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I think that there is a mis-communication in this post somewhere. So to clarify I will post some interesting things I have learnt recently (which is the useful thing about posts like this as it forces one to look up information and data).

I have not doubt that there is proud tradition of Ragú making in Naples, this is not an issue. However, my earlier response to the origins of "Ragú", was in response to these comments.

The Ragú is only neapolitan... the other sauce should only be called Bolognese.

The first record of ragú is on neapolitans cookbooks of the 19th century.

I believe that this refers to the work of Duke Ippolito Cavalcanti "La cucina teorico-practica" (published in 1837, so not that early in the 19th century), who rendered French phonetically into Italian and in later works (post-1846) used Neapolitan dilect as well. This work does indeed contain what looks like an archetypal recipe for Neapolitan Ragú. I haven't got a copy of this work, but from what I can work out this recipe is called "Carne al Ragú". As Neapolitans obviously have a very good idea of what "Ragú" should be, it would seem that there may have been a contraction to simply "Ragú".

But there are earlier uses of the word "Ragú" in print. La cucina casereccia printed 25 times between 1807-1885 was nurmerous Italianized French cooking terms, including "Gatto" (gateau) and "Ragú" (ragout).

But before this there are earlier examples. In Francesco Leonardi's "Apicio Moderno (1790) a "Ragú di Animelle" as a componant recipe of "Gatto di Lasagne alla Misgrasse".

In both of these cases there are very strong Neapolitan connections.

My original interest was trying to determine when the Italianization of the French term occured and what types of recipes this was associated with. I haven't quite managed to do this, but I did find out some an interesting bit of information that might be of interest to people with access to historical Italian language cookbooks.

Most people interested in food history know of Francois Pierre de La Varenne's "Le Cuisinier Francois", first printed in 1651 - it is one of the most, if not the most influencial, cookbooks produced in Europe. What is interesting is that it's impact in Italy was also great. Translated into Italian as "Il cuoco francese", there were at least 13 re-printings published between 1682 and 1826! An incredible record. I have facsmile of the 17th century English language version, there are many many recipes for ragout (spelt "ragoust"). In the case of the Italian labguage versions, it should be possible to pin- point the period in which ragout became ""Ragú". Also, as the first Italian language printing came out of Bologna, if the modern form of the word was in this addition it would give much evidence to suggest that the Northern-Italian version was older then the Neapolitan. Sadly, I don't have access to these books. :rolleyes:

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