There is little that can compare with the comforting feeling when you take the first mouthful of a truly great ragù. It's a rich sauce of slow-cooked meat and vegetables that has survived and flourished, a true staple of Italian cuisine.
If you think you haven't had a ragù before – chances are you have. But Italian restaurants are increasingly mixing up their ragù offering. A few indulgent twists include Carluccio's duck ragù topped with crispy garlic breadcrumbs, Zizzi's pulled beef brisket and venison strozzapreti, and Prezzo's country-inspired rabbit ragù.
Good things come to those who wait
A traditional ragù is made with one or more types of meat, stewed with a light or creamy broth as well as vegetables or tomatoes – but it's the meat that's the star of the show.
To get that signature deep and rich taste, the sauce is slow-cooked for hours, letting the meat soak up flavours from the broth and vegetables, and tenderise until it practically melts in the mouth. Carluccio's duck pappardelle has the perfect contrast of tender meat, al dente pasta strips and crunchy breadcrumbs, for a twist on both Sunday roasts and classic ragù sauce.
The ragù role models
Every Italian joint will have their own take on a ragù. Changing just one ingredient, such as the meat or vegetable used – or even the type of pasta it's served with – makes it unique. Lighter versions of ragù are commonly served with white meats like chicken or rabbit. Prezzo's rabbit ragù is light and tender, and pairs perfectly with a delicate Pinot Noir or light-bodied German white.
Adopting a two-meat strategy like Zizzi lets you play around with flavours – the intense, gamey venison balances the succulent beef brisket. The red wine and tangy garlic give the dish added richness.
A rough guide to the ragù
They say too many cooks spoil the broth, but luckily there was only one person present when ragù was first made. In the small northern Italian town of Imola at the end of the 18th century, the Cardinal's personal chef Alberto Alvisi decided to try something new – for which we are eternally grateful – and presented his patron with a ragù per maccheroni. It must've gone down a storm, because it was endlessly repeated, and known as The Cardinal's Ragù.
Since then there have been countless variations and twists on the timeless classic. Spaghetti bolognese is probably the most well-known, while Napoletana is the southern Italian version. It features whole pieces of slow-braised meat, and is often served without pasta.