This recipe for Red Wine Ragù follows the basic techniques for making a classic Italian beef ragù, or meat sauce... But what makes it so special is that this meat sauce has lots of red wine, which deepens the flavor of the tomatoes and adds a subtle sweetness to the whole sauce. And it's really quite simple to make.
This red wine meat sauce is perfect for adding a subtle twist to your usual Sunday gravy. And though beef ragù seems like a rich, comforting meal you'd eat during the cooler months, most Italian-American families like mine eat it all year round. Usually on Sundays, when the whole family gathers for a big... loud meal.
And if you like this recipe, you'll also love my other delicious wine-forward pasta recipe, Red Wine Mushroom Pasta.
How to make ragù
Let's start with the term "ragù". In Italian this word simply refers to a meat-based sauce. The ground meat, plus a few alliums like onion and garlic, braise in a tomato and red wine mixture until the ragù thickens and becomes deeply flavorful.
This red wine meat sauce relies on good technique to achieve the most flavor out of very few ingredients.
- Ground beef
- Tomato paste
- Crushed tomatoes or whole tomatoes
- Red Wine
- Grated Pecorino or Parmesan
- Salt, pepper, cayenne
- Olive Oil
The overall process of making this red wine ragù recipe is similar to braising meat.
Step 1: Sear the meat in a cast iron pot/ Dutch Oven. When it's cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a bowl and set it aside for now.
Step 2: Next, sauté the garlic, onion and red pepper flakes in the fat that rendered from the beef. Once the onions are translucent and just starting to turn golden, add the tomato paste and cook until it darkens in color and sticks to the bottom of the pot.
Step 3: Then, use the wine to deglaze all the fond, or those "browned bits" of tomato paste and onions stuck to the bottom of the pot. Deglazing takes all that fond and incorporates it into the rest of the sauce.
Step 4: Finally, add the tomatoes and some water. I like to use crushed tomatoes for this recipe but you can also use a can of whole tomatoes. By the way, the water will mostly evaporate. It's job is to help slow cook the beef so the sauce doesn't over-reduce.
Step 5: Simmer for 1.5 hours, until the sauce has thickened and the beef is nice and tender. The last step is to add a fresh clove of grated garlic, which brightens up the sauce, simmer for another 2-3 minutes, and season with salt and pepper to taste! About 1 teaspoon of salt and a big pinch of black pepper will do.
Step 6: Serve with fresh parsley over fettuccine, rigatoni, cascatelli, or any other pasta shape you love!
- Use good flavorful tomatoes for the best tasting ragu. My favorites are Sclafani and Wegman's brand. They're the best canned tomato options for their price.
- Allow tomato paste to stick to the pot to make a fond.
- It's OK to salt the beef and onions as they sauté, but don't salt the actual tomato sauce until it's done. Since the red wine ragù reduces a lot as it cooks, it may end up being too salty in the end.
- Adding another clove of grated garlic at the end helps layer the garlic flavor. I use this technique in 2 of my other tomato-based sauce recipes Pomodoro and Pink Sauce. It's always a hit.
Variations on Red Wine Ragú
This recipe is incredibly delicious and very simple. Having said that, you can make it even more complex by adding a few simple ingredients/steps
- Sauté 2 anchovies with the onions and garlic. Don't worry, the sauce won't taste fishy, it just adds another layer of flavor and rich umami taste to the ragù. The anchovies totally disintegrate.
- Instead of crushed red pepper, use 2 dried chiles de arbol. This is how I put my personal spin on most tomato sauces. They add a really nice level of spice and flavor.
- Use whole tomatoes instead of crushed for a slightly chunkier sauce. It depends on what mood I'm in.
- Serve with beans instead of pasta, especially when using the leftovers. This will make the recipe exciting even on day 2.
- Make it creamy: Add a splash of heavy cream to the ragu when it's finished if you want something a little creamier and less acidic/ tomatoey.
Equipment needed to make Beef Ragù
The equipment you use plays a large role in how the recipe turns out. For this recipe, there are two must-have pieces of equipment I recommend if you want your red wine meat sauce to taste like mine.
A large dutch oven, AKA a cast iron pot. Dutch ovens get really hot and are the best vessels for developing fond.
Some Dutch Ovens can be crazy expensive, but you don't need to spend a lot for a good quality dutch oven. In my opinion, Lodge makes perfectly good, long-lasting cast iron products at an incredibly reasonable price. Like this 6-qt Lodge Dutch Oven.
A Chef's Knife: I recommend buying a chefs knife after almost every recipe I write. That's because they singlehandedly streamline your cooking, making you more efficient in the kitchen. Again, chef's knives can be inexpensive, middle-of-the-road, or very high-end. But any chefs knife is better than none. I use this 8 inch Wustoff.
This Red Wine Ragù recipe is a classic Italian beef ragù with a wine-forward twist.
- 1 lb ground beef, 80% lean
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic; 3 sliced, 1 grated
- 2 Tb tomato paste
- 1 cup of red wine
- 1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
- Salt, pepper, crushed red pepper for seasoning
- 2Tb Olive oil
- 1 lb long flat pasta such as fettuccine, tagliatelle, or pappardelle
- 2 large handfuls of parsley, chopped
- Grated parmesan, for serving
- Heat a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Place ground beef in the pot in large hand-pressed pieces. Season generously with salt and pepper, and saute it until cooked through and starting to brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the beef onto a plate and set aside, but leave the fat in the pot.
- Add the olive oil and the onions to the pot, and season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sauté onions for about 5 minutes, or until they start to soften and darken slightly. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste to coat the onions and cook for 1-2 minutes until the tomato paste deepens in color to a dark red-brown and sticks to the bottom of the pot. Add the beef back to the pot along with the wine to deglaze. Scrape the bottom of the pot with your spoon to help release the fond.
- Add the can of crushed tomatoes in 2-3 batches, allowing the sauce to come back up to a boil before adding more tomatoes. Then fill the can about ½ of the way with water, swirling it around to get all the extra tomato off the sides of the can, and add the water to the pot as well. Bring ragu to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 1.5 hours partially covered, so steam can escape. Stir the sauce occasionally to make sure the bottom isn't burning.
- When finished, grate the other garlic clove directly into the sauce. Cook for 2 more minutes then season with salt to taste and add fresh parsley.
- Once sauce has simmered for 1 hour, heat a large pot of salted water over a high flame until boiling. The water should taste fairly salty, like the saltiness of soup, but not as salty as the ocean. Once boiling, drop the pasta into the water. When pasta is cooked to your desired doneness, turn off the heat, strain the pasta through a collander, and return pasta to the pot along with 2-3 ladles of sauce, stirring to coat. Place pasta into a large serving bowl and top with more sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan, crushed red pepper, and more parsley if you'd like.
Keywords: Red wine ragu, red wine meat sauce, beef ragu, beef and red wine ragu