How to Make Ragu Style Pasta Sauce (And Gluten-Free Pasta)

This ragu style pasta sauce has become one of my go-to recipes. It’s an adaptation of a recipe I learned from Jamie Oliver and it requires mostly ingredients that I already have on hand around the house, the prep is super quick, and while the sauce is slowly simmering, you can sit back and relax.

Ragu sauce refers to a sauce made of many tiny little pieces of meat and vegetables. This recipe includes Italian sausage, bacon, onions, and zucchini, but you can add as many finely chopped or grated vegetables as you want. The technique involved in making this sauce makes it easy to add extra veggies while all you’ll taste is rich smoky tomato goodness.

This sauce reheats well and freezes well. I highly recommend making a large batch, approximately double this recipe, and freezing it.

To freeze your sauce, get some large ziplock bags. You’ll want the nice ones because you don’t want your sauce leaking out the top due to a finicky seal. Fill the bag about halfway with pasta sauce, squeeze the air out of the top as best you can, seal the top, and then flatten the bag out until you have an even, flat square of pasta sauce in a bag. Freeze it laid out flat, and once it’s solid, you can store it upright. Freezing it this way means that it solidifies faster, it’s easy to store, and it thaws more quickly.

Now, on to the recipe!

Ragu-Style Pasta Sauce

Summary: A recipe for ragu-style pasta sauce packed with vegetables, meat, and flavor that will become a household staple in no time. Bonus: a brief guide to gluten-free pasta.
Course Main Course
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive 45 minutes
Servings 6 people

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 2 big sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 lb bacon
  • 1 lb ground hamburger or Italian sausage
  • 1 onion
  • 2 large zucchini
  • 2 heaped tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 28- oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14- oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 28 oz water
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pasta

Instructions

  1. Turn the heat up to medium-high beneath a large pot and once it’s hot, add olive oil. Chop rosemary and bacon into small bits and add it to the pot. Fry until bacon is beginning to turn crispy.
  2. Break up the sausage meat into small pieces and add to pan. Break into smaller pieces as it browns. This will take some effort. Hamburger will break down easily, but I like the flavor of Italian sausage meat better and it likes to stay in larger clumps. Fry the meat until lightly golden and the sizzling noises in the pan have increased again, approximately 10 minutes.
  3. Chop onion and zucchini very small. Add to the pot and fry for approximately 10 minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste, diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and water. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Simmer for 30-45 minutes until reduced to a thick sauce.
  6. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt the water. Cook your pasta according to the directions. With a slotted spoon, lift the pasta directly out of the water into a bowl, or drain the pasta but save some of the water it was cooked in.
  7. Add your finished sauce to your bowl of pasta and add a splash of pasta water. Mix well. The starch in the pasta water helps the pasta and the sauce bind together and the sauce will become smooth and evenly distributed. Finish with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

TIP: Tomato paste in a little can is super cheap so it makes sense to grab that off the grocery shelf when tomato paste is needed. But if you’re like me, every time you buy it, you only use a few tablespoons, can’t be bothered to transfer the contents to a Tupperware, and the rest goes bad in the can. It’s actually worth it to spend the extra money for tomato paste in a glass jar or a squeeze tube. Some brands to look for: Bionaturae makes tomato paste in a jar and Amore, Cento, San Marzano, and Alessi all make squeeze tubes that close with a cap.

Some easy variations for this recipe:

  • Use half hamburger and half Italian sauce, or half hamburger and half ground pork sausage.
  • Replace half the meat with cooked lentils to cut down on cost.
  • Use a food processor to shred your onion and zucchini or additional veggies like carrots and cabbage to bulk out the sauce and sneak vegetables into your kids’ meal.

Gluten-Free Pasta

Because I specialize in gluten-free recipes I need to discuss the art of making gluten-free pasta and a few pasta brands. Gluten-free pasta has a reputation for being flavorless, mushy, and easily disintegrated into many little pieces.

For tasty, non-mushy gluten-free pasta, follow these rules:

  1. Stir regularly while the pasta is cooking, especially in the first couple minutes as the pasta is just beginning to soften.
  2. Never overcook gluten-free pasta. Err on the side of undercooking it so you get nice chewy al dente pasta.
  3. Once it has finished cooking, make sure to rinse the pasta in very hot water to keep it from sticking together and becoming one big pasta monster clump.

By far the best gluten-free pasta brand available is Tinkyada. They make dozens of pasta shapes, including Lasagna, fettuccine, and large shells for stuffing. They taste pretty much like normal pasta! Tinkyada doesn’t always reheat well and isn’t that great cold, so stick to making the pasta fresh when you need it like the Italians do. Tinkyada is so good I basically never reach for any other brand.

Other brands that carry gluten-free pasta that you might see are Jovial, Bionaturae, Barilla, and Ancient Harvest. I have not tried gluten-free pasta by Jovial but I’ve heard they are great and made from organic whole grain rice, which is pretty refreshing in contrast to so many gluten-free products that have very little nutritional value. I also have not tried Barilla’s gluten-free pasta, but they’re rated highly and they’re widely available in a pretty large variety of shapes. Bionaturae is just okay as it’s closer to what you would expect gluten-free pasta to taste like. I’d avoid Ancient Harvest if you can help it. The taste of the pasta overpowers whatever sauce you put on it, and not in a good way.

I hope you enjoy this ragu style pasta sauce and mini gluten-free pasta guide and that this recipe will become a staple in your household in the future.

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How to Make Borscht (The Quick Easy Way!)

I once had a boyfriend with a Scandinavian background who he taught me to make borscht. Only, he didn’t follow many of the traditional methods of borscht making, such as cutting the vegetables Julienne style (otherwise known as matchsticks), boiling beef for several hours to create a rich broth, skimming the foam from the top of the broth to keep it clear, or adding vinegar at the end for the distinctive sweet and sour taste.

His reason for his unorthodox style wasn’t a preference of taste, but a lack of patience. He was not interested in carefully chopping a large mound of vegetables into tiny slices, or waiting for the flavors of the broth to deepen. Instead, we haphazardly chopped the veggies into chunky cubes, used pre-made beef broth, and added extra tomatoes to achieve the acidity of the vinegar.

I’ve continued to make the recipe by myself and I’ve tweaked it over the years to suit my own tastes. The result is an easy to make borscht-style stew with a delicious bright red broth, packed full of vegetables and flavor, that’s perfect for a cold winter evening. Don’t skip the sour cream and dill at the end. It really transforms the dish!

This is a, “we’re gonna need a bigger pot,” kind of recipe so make sure to either haul out your extra large pot or halve the amounts below for a smaller portion.

TIP: Beets stain EVERYTHING. Your hands, the counter, and the cutting board will be easy to clean with some dish soap, but avoid using white dishcloths, cloth napkins, or light colored table clothes when cooking and serving this bright red dish.

Quick Easy Borscht

Looking for an easy, less time-consuming method of making borscht while maintaining all of the flavor and nutrients?
Course Soup
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Passive 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 10 people

Ingredients

  • ½ lb chuck roast
  • 3 garlic cloves crushed
  • 1 large onion chopped large
  • 3 large carrots chopped large
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp rosemary
  • 1 small cabbage (or ½ a large cabbage) chopped large or small
  • 32 oz beef broth
  • 28 oz canned diced tomatoes
  • 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
  • 4-5 bouillon cubes chicken or beef
  • 2-3 red potatoes chopped large
  • 4-5 beets red or gold, peeled and chopped large
  • sour cream and dill for serving

Instructions

  1. Chop the chuck roast into small bite-sized cubes. Get your very large pot nice and hot, then add a drizzle of olive oil, the meat, and the crushed garlic cloves to the pot.
  2. Brown the meat for a few minutes. Stir just enough to prevent burning, but you want it to get that darker color. If it’s leaving a brown sticky mess on the bottom of the pot, that means it’s carmelizing, and you’re doing it right.
  3. When the meat is well colored, before things start to burn, take the chunks of meat out of the pot and set them aside. Add your onion. As the water releases from the onion, you can start to scrape the bottom of the pot to get the lovely brown stuff incorporated into your veggies.
  4. Add the carrots, bay leaves, salt, pepper, coriander, cloves, rosemary, and cabbage. Stir to get all the veggies coated in the oil and spice mix.
  5. Allow the veggies to cook for several minutes, as the water releases from them. You’ll know it’s done releasing when the noise of the sizzling increases again.
  6. Add in your carton of beef broth to stop the frying. Add the two cans of tomatoes, the bouillon cubes, and fill one of the cans with hot water and add that as well.
  7. Bring the mixture to a low boil, and add the potatoes and beets. If your vegetables are not completely covered in liquid, add some boiling water or additional beef stock if you have it.
  8. Cover and allow to simmer for 40-60 minutes, until the vegetables prick easily with a fork. Cook for less time if you want your veggies a little crunchier. Add back the chuck roast cubes and stir through. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning as needed.
  9. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh or dried dill. Enjoy!

Possible variations to play around with:

  • You can use whatever type of chunky red meat you like, but I find the smoky taste of chuck roast goes really well with the broth.
  • I like to use a mix of red and gold beets, but they will all be stained red once cooked, even if you only use one red beet!
  • Cut the cabbage into whatever size you prefer. I kind of like long floppy leaves of cabbage in my soup, but if you don’t like the texture, it’s easy to cut small.
  • Chop your veggies to be whatever size is easiest for you to fit in your mouth!

If you want to Instagram your beautiful dish, make sure to do so before you stir in the sour cream, as the white and the red mix together to make bright pink! Boy did I get some strange looks in the break room at work with my pink soup.

I hope you enjoy this quicker version of Borscht. If you try any cool variations of my recipe, please let me know in the comments!

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