We went to Italy for our honeymoon and the first place that we stayed was a winery in Tuscany called Castello Banfi. One of the most memorable things that we did was take a cooking class with the chef from the winery’s restaurant. Dominico, the chef, explained to us that the “new school” of Tuscan-style cooking was much healthier, which we were surprised to learn. In the states, whenever you go to an old-school Italian restaurant, you are likely to encounter large portions of breaded chicken or veal cutlets with heavy, creamy sauces. In our experience, the cuisine in Italy was focused more on simplicity and letting the ingredients shine on their own. But even more recently, the younger chefs in Italy are using even less oil and fat than their predecessors. For example, Dominico does not use oil to sear veal chops in the pan, which he said was the “new school” way of thinking. He lets the pan get super hot and then places the meat down in the pan, allowing the water and fat from the meat alone to help form the crust on the seared meat.
We made a delicious beef ragu and also rolled out our own pasta. I had never rolled out pasta before, so it was really fun to experience that and see how it is done. It was explained to us that Tuscany has a reputation for having high quality beef and that a lot of the sauces in the region are designed to highlight the meat. This ragu is different than a traditional “spaghetti” sauce because it has a consistency closer to a chili ~ as the liquid evaporates, the flavor concentrates in the meat and the vegetables. We also learned that the basic part of this recipe (carrot/celery/onion/tomato paste) can be used to make a fish-based or vegetarian sauce, which I hope to try soon and share with you. BUT ~ since we don’t have beef that often, I say, just go for the beef.
For Valentine’s Day, instead of going out, we decided to recreate our cooking class meal and just take it easy. I want to share this recipe because while it takes time, it requires few ingredients and is really delicious. You could definitely make this with ground turkey or bison, which I haven’t tried yet. It is really fun to open up a good bottle of red wine, add a few glugs to the sauce and sip on it until your dinner is ready. We figured what better time then the present to open up a bottle of wine that we bought at Banfi.
Tuscan Beef Ragu
What You’ll Need:
1 lb of ground beef (we used 90/10)
1 stalk of celery
1 small onion
1 small can of tomato paste
2 bay leaves
good red wine that you would drink
salt and pepper
angel hair pasta
What You’ll Do:
Dice the carrot, celery and onion into small cubes. Saute in a saucepan with olive oil, salt and pepper until the vegetables begin to change color slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the beef to the pan and cook until the beef is no longer pink. Allow to simmer until most of the liquid evaporates from the pan. This could take 20-30 minutes. Add two to three tablespoons of the tomato paste to the mixture, until it becomes slightly red. Add the bay leaves, salt, pepper and two full glasses of red wine. Turn the heat down and allow the mixture to simmer for at least one hour. You want most of the liquid to evaporate. If it starts to get dry, add 1 ladle of water. Adjust seasonings to taste. Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta – be sure to add salt and a little olive oil before doing so. Before you drain the pasta, add a tablespoon of the pasta water to the ragu. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
This is a really simple, but special dinner. The longer it simmers, the more delicious it gets. So, open up a good bottle of wine and enjoy!