Rain doesn’t come easily to these parts. Southern California, I mean. During the dry months, not so much as a damp-against-your-face fog seems to roll through. In the wet season, such as it is, when clouds gather and suddenly you’re needing to turn on the wipers, you’re a bit shell-shocked. Down to the last driver stuck on the 405 Freeway because there’s a fender bender every few miles. In LA, the visceral reality of actual weather, from the faintest hint of humidity on a hot August night to a tropical downpour of monsoon proportions, drives us all to distraction.
Which is a long way of saying we’ve been cooking up a lot of comfort food of late – roasts, soups, stews and braises. It’s what we do when the days are gray and night falls early. When it feels better to stay cooped up inside, it’s time to get something simmering in our cherished Le Creuset pot.
We love a good ragu. During our honeymoon in Tuscany, we ate many hearty, earthy examples, most often with wild boar. (I imagine there are packs of wild boars circling Florence.) Of course, we ate a lot, period. But those casual piles of pasta, slicked with sauce, felt like the most accessible – the purest – expression of people and place.
At home, when the weather turns wet and often when it’s not, we make this ragu. It’s adapted from a recipe by Mario Batali, simplified with fewer ingredients but sacrificing none of its homey goodness. You’ll be amazed at how an onion, a carrot, a pound of beef and some milk can come together to create something so soulful and satisfying.
Recipe: Butcher’s Ragu (adapted from Mario Batali)
Don’t cheat on the milk here. Go full fat and put in the full cup. It’s what gives this sauce its roundness and richness. I also love that you need just one of nearly every ingredient. Easy to remember, easy to shop for, easy to make.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
4 oz pancetta or bacon, diced
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1 pound fusili or penne pasta
Fresh pecorino cheese, for serving
Heat oil in a dutch oven. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat. Add pancetta and ground beef. Cook for another 8 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook over low heat until meat looks shiny, about 10 minutes.
Add milk, white wine and water. Simmer on medium low until thick and saucy, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente. Drain, add to sauce when finished and cook for a few minutes to bring the flavors together. Serve immediately, garnished with a healthy shaving of pecorino.