There is no point making a little ragu. Proper ragu is about time and patience and a glass of red wine and a book while you wait for it, inhaling those gorgeous smells all the way. So I make a lot, even if I am making it just for myself. I eat it in different ways over the following days, ragu just gets better and better the day after, and the day after that. Have it with pasta, put it in an empanada, or make a terrific frittata with the leftover spaghetti and ragu.
I have written about authentic Italian ragu in the past (Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe), authentic in that the recipes that I sourced were all from Italians, and mainly people from Emilia Romagna, the home of Tagliatelle with Ragu. What I learned is that ragu varies, not just regionally (Romagnola ragu is heavy on the tomato, Emilia ragu is heavy on the meat), but from house to house.
Ragu usually starts with a soffrito (celery, carrot and onion). After that the meat varies (usually pork and veal but often beef and sometimes including sausage), some use milk, some use red wine, others use white wine. One person I cooked with used red and white wine, because that is how is father does it (white first and red later), there is always tomato but the amount varies. For seasonings some use bay, most use rosemary. I had a wonderful ragu in a countryside restaurant made with lard and white pepper. One thing that they all agree on is that there is definitely never any garlic and any Italian will fight you about that. But they don’t have black garlic, and if they did, I bet they would stick it in there. Controversial, right? Not when you taste it.
Black garlic is cured garlic from Korea. It isn’t fermented (as kimchi is) but it is cooked gently at a very low temperature over a number of weeks so that it caramelises, resulting in sticky black garlic that is rich, deep, savoury and sweet. It tastes a little like liquorice, a lot like molasses and balsamic vinegar, a little like roast garlic. It is a flavour bomb, and you know how much I love them.
I have never tried to make my own. I thought about it, I do love a bonkers project like this, but everywhere I read that it stinks your flat out, and I didn’t think that even I could cope with that in my small old London apartment. It is easy to buy now, besides. I have bought some in pharmacies in Asia, it is viewed as a health food there, and while I have not seen any scientific evidence, anecdotally it is referred to as a super garlic and is said to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol. They also make a tea with the husks. There are producers in the UK now too, and it is easy to source online (Ottolenghi uses it a lot and black garlic is available from their online shop too).
Black garlic is terrific with lots of things, but I love it with beef. I make marinades for BBQ steaks with it, and I love sneaking some into a ragu. I say sneaking because nobody actually knows it is there, they just know that they love that deep lovely flavour.
Give this a try, and come back tomorrow for a lovely recipe for the leftovers, it is worth making this just to make my lovely cheesey spaghetti and ragu frittata. Enjoy!
Note on the recipe: this takes time, give it at least two hours. Ragu tastes of little until it comes together, and then it tastes of everything, all at once. Worth the wait!
Spaghetti with Beef and Black Garlic Ragu
Makes enough for 6 – 8 people but use as much as you need and store the remainders in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for a month
1kg minced beef (fat is flavour – don’t go for a lean one)
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 sticks of celery, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
8 cloves black garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp worcester sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 x 400g tins good tomatoes
light oil for frying
1 tbsp fine grated parmesan per person, to finish
fresh basil leaves
100g spaghetti per person
large sauté pan or frying pan / skillet that will accommodate the volume
Make your soffrito by gently sweating the carrot, onion and celery in a tablespoon of oil over a gentle heat until starting to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and leave to the side.
Add another tablespoon of oil and cook the beef in batches so it isn’t crowded over a medium heat until brown. Return all of the beef and soffrito to the pan and add the black garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes, worcester sauce, soy sauce and bay leaves. Bring just to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for at least two hours. Season to taste when done.
When you are happy with your ragu, cook your spaghetti according to packet instructions. Add a ladleful of ragu per portion and mix completely. Top with parmesan, and the fresh basil leaves.
Eat immediately. The ragu keeps very well in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for a month.