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Ground Meat Ragu (“The Butcher’s Ragu”)

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Ground Meat Ragu (

Photo by James Ransom
  • Test Kitchen-Approved
Author Notes

Traditionally, a butcher’s family would take the little bits and scraps left over from the shop and cook them all out together to make a rich, deeply layered ragu fit for a king. The gentle sweating of the aromatics, which are softened even further by cooking them out in water, and the gentle poaching of the ground meat among the vegetable base are, to me, hallmarks of a central Italian ragu. San Marzano tomatoes, which I use here, are a relatively modern ingredient; some would even suggest that its addition is more southern than northern, but I think they add a nice layer of flavor, especially when cooked long and slow so that they meld with the meat and the aromatics. —Sara Jenkins

  • Prep time
    15 minutes
  • Cook time
    4 hours 30 minutes
  • Serves
    6 to 8

  • 2

    garlic cloves

  • 1

    small Spanish onion,15 peeled and chopped

  • 2

    carrots, peeled and chopped

  • 2

    celery stalks, peeled and chopped

  • 1/2

    bunch flat-leaf Italian parsley

  • 2

    sprigs rosemary, sage, thyme, or a combination

  • 3 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 4 pounds

    mixed ground meat, such as 2 pounds beef, 1 pound pork, and 1 pound veal

  • 1 tablespoon

    Italian double concentrate tomato paste

  • 1

    35-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes

  • 1 pinch

    salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Chop the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, herbs, and parsley finely in a food processor.
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven-type pan, sweat the vegetables out over low heat in the olive oil with a pinch of salt.
  3. Let them sweat about 7 to 8 minutes, until the onions become translucent but are not taking on color. Add about 3/4 cup water and the tablespoon of tomato concentrate and let cook down briskly until the liquid is almost completely evaporated.
  4. Now add the ground meat, breaking it up continuously and moving it about so that no lumps or balls form and all the meat gets broken down into its individual strands. Once the meat is all broken down and just cooked, add the can of San Marzano tomatoes and cook, simmering gently, stirring occasionally on the lowest heat you can go. The longer and slower this cooks, the better the ragu. We’re talking 3 or 4 hours. You will know it’s done when all the fat has cooked out of the meat and floats lazily on top of the sauce, colored orange from the tomato. At this point, the ragu can be eaten immediately or refrigerated for 3 to 4 days or frozen for 3 to 4 months.

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