We are most definitely in peak comfort food season, politically, emotionally, weatherly (not a word I know) everything this time of year just screams comfort so you wont be catching me eating a lettuce leaf, chia seed, green juice, smoothie bowl concoction. Okay, so I might be exercising for the first time in years but that doesn't mean I don't want to enjoy my food, I’m not that crazy! This type of food, low effort maximum flavour, is what I am all about, its comforting in taste and also in the making. That gentle bubble of a simmering pot, the occasionally stir and the sneaky taste, all accompanied by a glass of red wine. This is how I want to spend my dark winter nights. Nothing makes me happier than throwing something in a pot and then hours later something magical emerges. Its transformative, the same reason I love baking, and utterly satisfying.
This ragu is, by far (and not simply in the usual website hyperbole) the best thing I have cooked in quite a while. I might as well call the dish ‘the ultimate ragu', or the ‘best ever ragu’, I've got to get that website traffic up right? Okay, okay it might not be the best thing, hell it might not even be the best ragu I ever make. All I know is it is bloody marvellous and whilst it serves a whole host of people, it disappears very quickly around these parts.
Now Ragu. Lets talk. British Bolognese, whilst comforting to me in a whole different way, is not the real deal. One of my death row dishes happens to be my mums’s bolognese (yes one, if I am on death row, you know I'm ordering at least three courses) but lets be honest, it isn't the same thing, Italians must shudder at what we refer to as a bolognese sauce. Ragu is simply a meat sauce, slowly cooked with just a little, if any, tomato, not the other way around. Whilst I make no claims to the authenticity of this dish (no paella backlash for me please) I think this is probably a little more Italian than what I grew up with.
Beef Cheek Ragu
3 large beef cheeks (about 1.2kg), trimmed of any excess fat or gristle
5 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 sticks celery
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp tomato puree
125ml red wine
750ml beef stock
1x400g tin of chopped tomatoes
fresh parsley and parmesan, to serve
Get out your biggest pan, this makes a lot! Pat the beef cheeks dry with some kitchen paper and season well with salt.
Heat 3 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan (a big cast iron casserole is perfect for this) over medium/high heat and brown the beef cheeks until deep brown all over. Don’t skimp on this step as the browning really helps to give the sauce a deep meaty flavour. Remove the cheeks and set aside on a plate for the moment.
Reduce the heat to low and add the remaining oil to the pan, tipping in the onion, carrots and celery, sweating down for 10-15 minutes or until soft. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and bay leaves and cook for a couple minutes. Add the tomato puree and cook for a minute or two. Pour in the glass of red wine and cook until reduced by two thirds. At this point simply add the beef cheeks back into the pan along with the beef stock and the tomatoes. Bring the pan to a boil then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 3-4 hours, stirring very occasionally until the meat is super tender and falling apart. Using a couple forks to shred the meat, it should take almost no effort and and simply fall apart. Depending on the consistency of the sauce continue to cook a little longer until thick and reduced.
To serve coat some pappardelle in a little of the sauce and finish with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and parmesan.
Notes - This obviously makes a ton of sauce but trust me, knowing you have this stored away in your freezer will make you very happy! I like to portion it up into ziplock bags, pressing into a nice flat layer. This makes it easier to store, taking up less space in the freezer. It also makes it defrost much quicker.