Warren Elwin makes a hearty Italian American stew to feed a crowd
My buddy in Boston swears by this ragu, that he likes to just call gravy or red sauce, and he swears at me if I faff about with the simplicity of it. “Just tomatoes, garlic, meat, and some good red wine — nothing too fruity. Bay leaves if you must, but no cumin, Woz!”
By all means be selective with your sausages and meats. Use a good stewing steak, such as chuck or shin. Try beef short ribs or lamb shanks, and pork or chicken mince for meatballs. This sauce is good when it’s first made but it’s great two or three days later. Serve it as the Italians do — for a large family meal on a Sunday afternoon, or one of many different ways. See Make it Your Way, below.
Neapolitan raguServes 12 as a main meal
500g premium beef mince
1 small onion, finely chopped
⅓ cup panko crumbs
⅓ cup finely grated parmesan
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 tsp sea salt flakes
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg
4 pork cutlet chops, bone in
2 large beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat and sinew
4 large oxtail pieces, trimmed of excess fat
2-3 pork sausages
2 chorizo sausages
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1 bottle good quality red wine (we use a Lambrusco)
5 x 400g cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes, in tomato juice
1 bunch of tied fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary)
7 fresh bay leaves
12 cloves garlic, crushed with 2 tsp salt
1 lemon, zest and juice
- For the meatballs, mix the onion into the mince, followed by the dry ingredients, then bind together with an egg. Gently roll into medium-sized meatballs (approx. 4-5 cm diameter).
- Season chops, cheeks and oxtails with plenty of sea salt flakes and fresh black pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan, then brown off all the meats separately, colouring them well, finishing with the sausages then the meatballs. Place browned meats in a dish to capture any juices as you go and cut the sausages into large chunks.
- Remove any excess fat from the pan, then reheat the pan and deglaze with a big pour of the wine, stirring with a wooden spoon to help release the brown bits from the bottom. Crush the tomatoes into the pot with your hands, washing out each tin with a little water and adding as you go.
- Layer in the meat and juices, sausages and meatballs last. Add the rest of the wine, the herbs and garlic, then bring to a low boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for at least 5 hours, or until the meats start to fall off the bone and meld with the rich red sauce. You can gently stir the pot on the odd occasion, and frequently skim off the excess fat that rises to the surface.
- When it's good, turn it off, remove the herbs, add the lemon zest and juice and rest, covered, for at least an hour. Season and reheat to serve family-style, spooned from a large dish with sides of mash or polenta and broccolini, sauteed with a little red chilli flake, garlic and lemon.
Make it your way
- Portion out the gravy into containers, removing any bones and breaking down the meats a little to evenly distribute, then refrigerate or freeze for later use.
- Reheat and use as a pasta sauce, sprinkled with parmesan or pecorino, fresh pepper and chopped herbs.
- Serve with a bowl of rice and a spicy salsa verde or a fresh pico de gallo on the side.
- Reduce the gravy further and layer it into a lasagne, or use it to make pies with mashed potato or kumara tops.