Introduction: Beef Ragu

This Beef Ragù is "loosely" Italian-inspired. Here I've served it with potato gnocchi and tagliatelle.

Great for cosy nights in, casual get togethers and dinner parties alike.

Why? Well, it's an awesome "make ahead meal" that gets better and better the longer it sits.

Step 1:

Serves 4
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cooking Time: 3-4 hours

- 450g (1lb.) braising or stewing steak* (such as chuck, shin, silverside, etc.)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 medium carrot, finely diced
- 1 stalk (rib) of celery, finely diced
- 15g (½ oz.) dried porcinis, soaked in 500ml/2 cups of warm water
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 3 cloves
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 3 fat garlic cloves, finely minced (optional)
- 1 Tbsp tomato purée (paste)
- Approx. 250ml (1 cup) of red wine (use less if you like)
- 400g (14oz.) tinned tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp orange marmalade
- a large handful of fresh parsley or basil leaves, finely chopped or torn
- salt and pepper, to taste


- Instead of a cinnamon stick, use ¼-½ tsp of ground cinnamon, to taste*
- White wine or cider instead of red wine
- If you don't want to use alcohol, just use 1 tablespoon of balsamic or red wine vinegar
- Substitute the fresh thyme with another fresh herb like oregano, marjoram, rosemary, etc. or use dried herbs
- Use juice and zest of ½ orange as opposed to orange marmalade

* You shouldn't taste cinnamon in the final dish. It's only there to add depth.


I don't like the taste of red wine on its own so I can't offer any recommendations on what kind to choose.

I think it's important to find a wine that you like using in ragù - different wines have different effects on the final flavour.

If you know how to and/or are confident dicing up your onion, carrot, celery and garlic then skip Step 3-5.

Step 2: The Porcinis:

Begin by steeping your porcinis - 15g (½.oz.) soaked in 500ml (2 cups) of warm water.

For this recipe, you'll need them finely chopped.

Check out my Instructable on Reconstituting Dried Mushrooms for more details!

Step 3: Dicing the Carrot and Celery...

I don't like big chunks of vegetables through my sauce so I cut them really fine.

If your knife skills aren't great* then just grate the carrot and celery.

But here's how I dice the carrot and celery...

- Peel
- Divide into 3-4 manageable chunks
- Slice lengthways
- Cut into matchsticks
- Finely dice

Peel ---> Divide into 3-4 manageable chunks ---> Slice lengthways ---> Cut into matchsticks ---> Finely dice

* no pun intended but I decided to stay with 'great' anyway.

Step 4: Dicing the Onion...

The onion you can hack up any old way you like because it'll melt into the sauce anyway.

Here's how I dice it though...

- Align the stem end* of the onion with the edge of the chopping board
- Begin cutting with the heel of the blade and pull the knife backwards
- Then draw the tip of your blade through to finish - take care to avoid slicing through the root.

* opposite of root end

You might have noticed that I'm mostly slicing the onion at an angle:

- To the left when cutting the left side of the onion
- Straight when working towards and in the centre
- To the right when cutting the right side of the onion

This is to avoid the typical yet risky horizontal cut because it makes me nervous.

To dice:

- Turn the onion 90 degrees: left if you're left-handed; right if you're right-handed.
- Push the knife away from yourself, remembering to use the full length of blade to slice.
- Continue until you reach all the way to the root.

Be careful:  Cut slowly.  Speed comes with practice. If you don't feel confident working this way then don't do it.

Step 5: Mincing the Garlic:

Gently crush the garlic under the weight of your hand.

Remove the stem.

Rest the garlic clove down on the board - the flattest side face down. Secure the garlic clove in place by pressing down with your thumb.

Divide 2-3 times by slicing through horizontally but only go three-quarters of the way - this means you can remove most of the skin in one go.

Take one piece of garlic. Slice it by drawing the tip of the blade down, starting from the root-end and finishing at the stem end.

Turn and slice across to finely mince.

And if all else fails, you could always just rock your knife over the garlic until it's small enough - perfectly viable option.

Step 6: Preparing the Beef...

Pat the meat dry to help speed up browning whilst searing then season with salt and pepper.

Step 7: Searing the Beef...

Place a large sauté or saucepan over a medium-high heat. 

Drizzle in around 1 tsp of oil. Swirl it around until evenly distributed around the pan. When it's hot, add the beef.

The meat will probably stick to the pan - don't worry! The pan will release the meat again when the beef has nicely browned.

Trust Auntie Leah: Don't be tempted to force it off the pan.

When there's no resistance, flip it over to sear the other side - this should only take a few minutes each side.

When the meat is nicely browned on the outside, transfer the beef on to a plate.

Warning: It'll get a wee bit smoky so make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated - i.e. open a door/window; turn on your extractor fan, etc.

Step 8: Deglazing the Pan...

If, like me, you're using a stainless steel pan then you'll probably need to deglaze with water.

Don't worry: that's not smoke, that's steam!

Step 9: Making the Base...

Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the onion, carrot and celery, along with the reconstituted porcinis, cinnamon stick and cloves.

Mix everything together and then allow to gently sweat down for 5-10 minutes until softened.

Step 10: Next...

Add the fresh thyme sprigs and garlic and cook them for a few minutes.

Tip in the tomato purée (paste) and fry for a minute or so to caramelise.

Stir the tomato purée into the veg base.

Now would also be a good time to add the ground cinnamon if you're not using the stick.

Step 11:

Pour in the red wine, or any of the alcohol substitutes, if using.

But if you're replacing the wine with vinegar don't add it quite yet.

Reduce the wine down by half over a high heat. It'll be thick and syrupy by the end.

Tip in the tomatoes.

Bring to the boil, reduce the temperature to medium and simmer until the tomatoes have reduced - approximately 15-20 minutes. I'm looking to caramelise the tomatoes here. If I add liquid straight away then they won't caramelise.

When the tomatoes are nicely concentrated and there's no liquid left in the sauce, pour in the porcini soaking liquid. If you're not adding alcohol then add the vinegar at this point.

Bring the liquid to a simmer before transferring the beef, along with any juices, back into the pan. Reduce the temperature to low (really low), cover with a lid and simmer for 1½-3 hours.

This will depend on whether you want to be left with chunks of fork-tender beef* or if you want the beef to melt into the sauce. I'm going for the latter option.

Nonetheless - stir occasionally.

*Break the meat into chunks with a wooden spoon when it's ready.

Step 12: To Complete the Sauce...

When the beef is to your liking, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Melt in the orange marmalade. I know this one sounds a bit strange but this meal is really rich so the tartness of the marmalade cuts through it.

I was given some lovely orange marmalade last year for Christmas. It contained different spices, such as cloves, cinnamon, ginger, etc.

I used this in the ragù - and loved it - hence why I now include the cloves and cinnamon stick because unfortunately that particular marmalade is now finished.

I always have marmalade on hand but fresh orange zest and juice does the exact same job - you choose whatever is most convenient.

Remove the spices (and thyme sprigs) whenever you're ready. I left the cinnamon and cloves in overnight (because I was saving it for the next day) but I have no idea whether it makes a difference.

Add the parsley or basil just before your pasta is ready.

Tip the pasta into the sauce to allow the pasta to absorb some of that flavour for a minute.

Serve immediately.

Step 13: To Reheat...

This ragù keeps for at least 3 days so I tend to make it on day one and then eat it on day two and three.

To reheat: Place a large spoonful of ragù into a saucepan, along with some chopped parsley (or basil). Add some water or stock to loosen the sauce and then gently warm it on a low to low-medium heat whilst your pasta is cooking.

Same as before: Tip the pasta into the sauce to allow the pasta to absorb some of that flavour for a minute.

Serve immediately.

Step 14: Done!

Thanks for reading!

Recipe by Leah Hawks
All photos by Tatiana Kolavskaya and Leah Hawks

Pasta Contest

Second Prize in the
Pasta Contest