Ragu for Cold Weather: Webisode #6

My Day So Far: Christmas-chaos! Present wrapping, stocking-stuffer shopping, packing for Cooperstown, cleaning out the fridge, etc, etc, etc (!!!) 
Naptime Goals: Make Ragu to get us through the next two nights before we travel. Finish, well.... everything. There is no end to what needs to get done before the 25th.
Tonight's Meal: Ragu with Rigatoni. 
Tomorrow's Meal: Ragu over Polenta. 
Parenting Lesson of the Day: Children are impervious to the cold; parents are not.

Ragu, one of my favorite cold weather foods, was on my mind earlier this month while reading Merrill's post about it on Food52. After reading salivating over her article I moved it to the top of my winter foods list, my source of inspiration when the forecast calls for fleece-lined boots and trapper hats. The food gods must have been watching me work because right on cue, just days after writing r-a-g-u in my notebook, the thermometer plummeted from a balmy 50º to below freezing. It is no secret that I am not a fan of cold-weather, but in this instance I was kind of happy about it. Great, I thought, now it is officially the proper climate for making Ragu.

I get just as excited about my first go-round of favorite winter foods as I do by the first cookout of summer. Opening my binder to cold weather recipes signifies the start of the new cooking season. For me, pulling out instructions for lasagnas, stews and slow-cooker meals is like catching up with old friends. I read each one carefully, reacquainting myself with the flavors and cooking styles, then get excited about what I'm going to make first.

Reading over these recipes became even more relevant this year when I quickly realized my daughter does not share my distaste for the cold. She is completely unfazed by ice and frigid winds, requesting daily trips to the playground as if it were still August. If my winter continues this way, I think it means that I'll be doing lots of cold-weather cooking this year. We will surely be in need of lots food to warm us up after chilly days outdoors.

Ragu is one of the most perfect cold weather meals, the rich meaty tomato sauce is a thick stick-to-your-ribs kind food that can be served any number of ways. As you'll see, I serve it over pastas, polenta and have even eaten it on top of a thick slice of peasant bread sprinkled with cheese. Every time I make it I like to adjust the flavor by playing with the ingredients. In this webisode I'm using fresh pork sausage from my butcher, but I have also used ground lamb, beef and even turkey. I also like to change up the herbs and vegetables sometimes, both are easy and fun ways to alter the flavor of the sauce.

The true brilliance of making Ragu for families is that it can be eaten for several meals and freezes beautifully. I often make this during my daughter's naptime and we eat it in a variety of forms for two or three days. Then I freeze a small container so that we have more stashed away for a night when I am dead tired at 5pm and haven't done any Naptime Chef-ing. Luckily my daughter has taken to eating Ragu. Like most children she is a big fan of noodles, so my addition of a tasty red sauce makes her all the happier to clean her plate. I hope you all feel the same way! Enjoy!


Ragu for Cold Weather
based on a recipe from my mother that I've altered over and over...
2 lbs. fresh sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 c. carrot, finely chopped (optional)
1 c. red wine
56 oz. Whole peeled plum tomatoes, or diced tomatoes, with juices
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
(See below for additional flavor variation ideas)

1. Place a heavy bottom pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Drizzle some olive oil into the pan and allow it to warm up. Then, add the sausage and break it into pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook the meat until it is completely browned, adding pinches of salt and pepper while it is cooking.
2. Once the meat is cooked add the onion and carrot and stir until the onion has become translucent. About 5 minutes. Next, add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.
3. Add the red wine to the mixture and scrape up the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Then, let the mixture simmer until it is reduced by about half.
4. Pour in the tomatoes. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes into chunks if you are not using diced tomatoes. Be careful! The tomatoes will squirt everywhere if you jab them too hard - be gentle. Add the bay leaf and rosemary and stir into the mixture.
5. Let the sauce simmer on the stove for an 1- 1 1/2 hours. Take a look occasionally and give it a stir.
6. After the sauce has thickened to a desirable consistency remove from heat. Take out the bay leaf and stem from the rosemary sprig. Serve hot! 

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Variation Ideas: There are many possibilities for flavor combinations when making ragu. You could use ground lamb, turkey, beef or almost any kind of sausage. It is also fine to combine meats as well. For herbs you could try basil, thyme, or any kind of bouquet garni. I also love addition other vegetables, carrots, red or green pepper or mushrooms all would taste delicious.
Naptime Stopwatch: The prep time for Ragu is roughly 15 minutes, the rest is just about waiting while it simmers on the stove.
Naptime Reviews: Most everyone loves ragu. We have fun now deciding what we flavors we are going to try each time make it. I encourage everyone to make it their own!


  1. I think this will be my afternoon project today. Like you, it will get us through these last two nights before the holiday without takeout. I was also inspired by the Food 52 post regarding ragu. Merrill's recipe is sitting on my to do pile. We are also in the midst of the final pre-Christmas chaos. A home cooked meal will do us a lot of good! Thanks for the inspiration today and every other posting day!

  2. Alright...I love ragu! We're having something very similar for Christmas Eve dinner this year; my sisters jokingly call it "Meat Party" because it's technically a ragu, but has four different sausages/meats and simmers all day. This recipe looks lovely and simple, and I can't wait to try it! Merry Christmas, Kelsey!

  3. Why did I never think to use polenta instead of pasta -?! Yum and thanks again...

  4. Merry Christmas everyone! Yes @megangordon, a meat party sounds totally awesome. I love ragu, any kind, in the winter. @lizthechef, try ragu over polenta, you will love it!