Ragù sauce for pasta

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Serves 4

1 onion
1 carrot
1 celery stick
50g smoked bacon (optional)
2 garlic cloves
Small bunch of basil
About 2 tbsp olive oil
700g beef mince
½ tbsp tomato purée
200ml red wine (optional)
500ml brown beef or chicken and veal stock
500g passata
1 bay leaf
1 tsp caster sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Halve, peel and finely chop the onion. Peel the carrot and de-string the celery, then finely dice both. Derind and finely dice the bacon, if using. Peel and crush the garlic and pick the basil leaves from the stalks.
  2. Heat a heavy-based frying pan, add enough of the olive oil to barely cover the bottom of the pan and fry the mince in batches over a medium to high heat. Don’t overcrowd the pan or it will stew rather than brown. Use a fork if necessary to break up the mince in the pan so it doesn’t cook in large lumps. If the mince produces a lot of fat, drain the fat from each batch by placing the mince in a sieve over a bowl for a few minutes, then transfer the browned mince to a saucepan. The fat that has drained into the bowl can be discarded
  3. Deglaze the frying pan with a little water, stirring well to lift the sediment on the bottom of the pan. Taste this liquid and if it is not bitter, add it to the mince (if bitter, discard it).
  4. Heat enough olive oil in the frying pan to just cover the base again and fry the carrot and celery over a medium heat until beginning to brown. Add the onion and bacon, if using, and continue to cook until the vegetables are evenly browned. You may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  5. Return all the vegetables to the frying pan and stir in the tomato purée. Add the wine, if using, and reduce by two-thirds.
  6. Add the stock and passata, stir well and pour the vegetable mixture over the mince in the saucepan. Add the bay leaf, basil stalks, a little seasoning and enough water to ensure the meat is just covered. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 1½–2 hours, or until tender. Halfway through the cooking, remove the lid to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.
  7. When the meat is tender, skim and discard any fat from the surface. (If the sauce is too thin, tip the mince into a sieve over a bowl. Return the liquid to the pan and reduce by boiling to the desired concentration and consistency, then stir the mince back in.) Add the sugar, with salt and pepper to taste. Chop or tear enough basil leaves to give you 2 tbsp, then stir them through the ragù just before serving.


Omit the optional bacon and red wine from the recipe for these variations.

Smoky chilli with black beans Omit the carrot, celery and basil. Fry 1 chopped red pepper with the onion. Add 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1–1½ tsp crushed dried chillies, depending on taste, 1 tbsp ground cumin, 1 heaped tsp smoked paprika and 1 tsp dried oregano with the tomato purée. Substitute the passata with a 400g tin chopped tomatoes and, 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time, add a drained 400g tin black beans and 1 tbsp light soft brown sugar in place of the sugar. Serve with rice and soured cream.

Cottage pie Follow the ragù recipe, but omit the garlic, passata, basil and sugar, and add 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Boil and mash 3 large floury potatoes, beat in 100ml warmed milk, 60g melted butter and salt and pepper to taste. Put the mince into a pie dish, allow to cool a little, then spread or pipe the potato on top. Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes until browned. The dish can be assembled ahead and chilled, in which case bake for an extra 20 minutes.

Shepherds pie Prepare in the same way as cottage pie, but using minced lamb instead of beef

Author: Leiths Teachers


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