Authentic Pasta al Ragu I Learned to Cook in Italy

This was my very first authentic Italian recipe that I learned while living in Italy. I was so excited to learn a legitimate Italian recipe that I cooked it for almost everyone who walked through our door to show off my newly acquired Italian culinary skills. It didn’t matter if they were Italian or not; every single visitor got an Italian meal!! Now this is my “go-to” dinner for large group entertaining, because Italian meals by design are meant to satisfy the ever-so-large and refined pallet of the Italian family.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can CRUSHED tomatoes
  • 1 lb. of ground meat
  • 1 Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup of red wine
  • 4 basil leaves
  • salt to taste
  • Parmigiana-reggiano cheese
  • tortiglioni pasta

The way I learned this recipe was using the metric system (since that is what is used in Italy), and I have converted it by trial and error over the years to fit what conversions I am familiar with. This recipe comes from Northeast Italy, and like the U.S., each region has its own special cuisine that pairs perfectly with the local wines that are grown. Many Italians will tell you to buy whatever wine is cheapest that day to “cook” with, and make sure you ONLY use ITALIAN grown tomatoes and olive oil. I love the patriotism, even down to the food ingredients, because non-Italian grown food taste different to them. But I must admit, even in Germany, I always look for “product of Italy” when buying ingredients to cook Italian; it only feels right! Unless I am serving an expensive wine with the meal, I just normally cook with whichever wine will be consumed with the meal, since I was opening that bottle anyway. I normally like a bold Italian Merlot or Mallbec to pair with the Italian cuisine.

Directions:

1. Heat skillet over medium heat and add olive oil.

2. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.

3. Add ground meat and brown. In Italy at the local butcher shop, you would request a specific blend of half pork and half beef to properly make the dish, but since that isn’t as easily done in the U.S., I have made it with either combing separate packages of ground beef and ground pork or just ground beef. Here in Germany, I love going to the local grocery store and getting SUPER fresh ground meat; I literally tell them what I would like (half pork/half beef) and they go to the back, grind it for me, and bring it out!

4. Add the tomatoes and wine and turn down the heat to medium-low.

5. Simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how long it takes for the juices to be absorbed. Towards the end of simmering, add the basil.

6. Cook pasta according to directions. One tip I learned from an Italian friend is to always measure the dry pasta on the dinner plate, and if 5 people were eating, measure out 5 plates of pasta and pour each into the boiling water. Her trick made sure she always measured the perfect amount of pasta!! 

7. Grate the Parmigiana cheese.

8. Once the pasta and the sauce are complete, serve the sauce over the pasta and top with grated cheese and basil!

This recipe brings back so many wonderful recollections of joyous times of food shared around the table with laughter, smiles, and memories made with friends and family. It brings a smile to my face just thinking of making this meal. Sometimes food is so much more than just energy to keep you going, but connects us with people by forming deeper bonds together made over the course of a meal. This is one way acquaintances become friends and families share their day together.

Bon Apetito!!

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