Let’s break some rules and make this Italian ragu (meat sauce)

I loved him. And hated him.

Jamie Oliver.

And those other cookbook authors.

But, Jamie Oliver in particular.


All said it, but I read it most often in his cookbooks:

“You have to know the basics, to become truly free in the kitchen and be able to let go of recipes”.

Just to give me another recipe.

Not the basics. Not the rules. A recipe.
Because no, a recipe is not a rule. A recipe is a specific example of a dish that you make by using  general cooking rules.

No one gave me the rules.
Not one of those cookbook authors. Not my beloved Jamie Oliver. So I attended culinary school and vowed to do it different myself.

Because it’s true.
When you know the rules, you can play with them. Play with your food. Make up dishes yourself. By using the general cooking rules that always work.

And even more important:

Learn the rules so you can break them.

Like I did last week.

To make a long story short: I had frozen beef and had gotten an appetite for it. In Bill Granger’s Bill’s Basics I found some inspiration for a Beef Stew in Rosé and Orange that he serves with pasta. But I knew I didn’t had enough time to make a proper stew with large chunks of soft beef swimming in a tasty thick liquid. So I closed the book to head to an Italian ragu style dish.

I browned some onion slices. Pressed with my biggest knife and some muscle work the mostly frozen meat into tiny pieces (1/3 in | 0,8 cm) and browned them in portions. Removed them from the pot to chop them in ever smaller pieces (millimeters, like coarse minced meat). Gulp of red wine. Remembered two other ziplocks in my freezer; one with this chicken braising liquid and one with some of these roasted tomatoes. Added orange zest. Gave it 3 hours thanks to a late Mr. Eats. Cooked some penne. Dinner’s done.

I would have never gotten to this this if I sticked with recipes.

So, learn the rules!

See, I say it and tell it my students as well. And you. But just don’t say I don’t give you the rules. Cause here they are:

The rules for making a stew:

1. thaw your meat slowly and let come to room temperature – broke this one
2. brown on high heat in fat – in portions – but did this
3. brown flavorful veggies like onions, garlic, carrot and/or celery (mirepoix) – partly, does that count?
4. deglace with wine, beer or stock – check
5. add more juices – V
6. add more, much more veggies – not today
7. let simmer until done – done

Believe me, if you follow these rules, you can make any stew. Even if you fail on a few of the rules. Except for the last one.

When’s a stew done?
When the meat’s soft and tasty enough to your liking. It depends on the size of your pieces and the natural toughness of the meat to get cooked and absorb all the flavors.
In general, chicken legs and thighs will take about 45 minutes, pork an hour, lamb about 2 and beef 3 hours, but usually much more up til 8! Yup, that’s not a typo.

But let me tell you, it is even better to understand why the rules rule!

But that’s for another blog post.
Although, if you’re a reader of my mailing list you’ll know it by know, as I just told you in my mail. If you’re not: sign up and receive my blog posts in full in your mailbox.
Or come to one of my cooking classes and learn it from me in person! Here’s the calendar of all public classes that I teach. In the Flavors of 1001-nights Morocco we definitely will make a tajine, that conical Moroccon stew.

Recipe Italian ragu meat sauce over pasta - TOMATOES illustration and recipe by EDIE EATS Food Blog by Edith Dourleijn

A real Italian ragu

A recipe, written down to show how I usually make my Italian ragu. More or less.
Like I said above, you don’t really have to follow this recipe strictly. Do you have more/less meat. That’s fine. Hate celery? Leave it out. No red wine open? Use white. Or rosé. No fresh tomatoes? Use canned. A piece of fennel in your fridge. Chop it up and use it. Really! Only apply this rule: give it time. T.I.M.E.

I used for 2:
* 1 anchovies filet
* olive oil
* 1/2 onion
* 1 carrot
* 1 stalk celery
* 1 clove garlic
* 10 oz | 300 gr minced beef and/or pork
* 1,5 tablespoon tomato purée
* gulp of red wine
* 3 ripe Roma tomatoes
* gulp of milk
* 1 cup | 250 ml strong beef stock
* tagliatelle
* Parmesan

I usually do:

Tip: I skip rule 1 here. Minced meat doesn’t need to come to room temperature.

Start with the base, the mirepoix. Melt the anchovies in 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium-low heat, while cleaning and chopping onion, carrot and celery into small pieces. Once the anchovies are complete melted, add the veggies and cook until soft. Mince the garlic and add as well.
That’s rule 3.

Brown the meat. Remove most of the veggies from the pot, add some more olive oil and brown the minced meat while breaking it up with your spatula. Stir in the tomato purée and let cook for another minute. If your making this in bigger quantities (and why shouldn’t you, it freezes well!), cook the meat in portions.
Rule 2.

Deglace. Just pour the red wine in the pan and bring to a boil. Stir to remove the browned bits from the bottom of your pot. Add veggies as well.
Rule 4.

Make more juicy by adding the chopped tomatoes, milk and stock and bring to a boil. Change the pot to your smallest pit and let simmer with lid on the lowest temperature. When you peek, you just need to see some bubbles popping up every now and then. 5.

Let simmer. Tasting it every 30 minutes tells me that it’s at its best after 2 hours. 6.

Cook some tagliatelle and mix it before serving with the Italian ragu. If the sauce is really thick, add some of the starchy cooking water. You might want to grate some Parmesan on top.



Just as good as this Italian ragu is this French classic Coq au vin aka red wine chicken and mushroom stew. Needs less time! 


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