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Rigatoni with Cremini Mushroom and Veal Ragu


I was in the mood for a nice plate of pasta the other day and decided to whip up a hearty ragu due to the cooler weather. I really enjoy the interplay between earthy cremini mushrooms and a more delicate addition of ground veal. It’s a nice change from a more frequently prepared mushroom and pancetta sauce. There’s a clear distinction between ragu and sauce. A ragu is much drier and uses significantly less tomato than a sauce. Some people choose to use only tomato paste in their ragu, while others use a few tablespoons of passata. I use a little more tomato than that, but not a heck of a lot more. The tomato is more of a complimentary flavour in this case. A sauce on the other hand is very “tomato-ey” and is the predominant flavour.

Rigatoni with cremini mushrooms and veal ragu

Rigatoni with cremini mushrooms and veal ragu

I started the ragu by sauteing the quartered cremini in olive oil then removing to a bowl. This was followed by browning the veal and removing to the same bowl. Finely chopped red onion sweat in a bit more olive oil until translucent and then a couple cloves of garlic, whole, were added to release their aroma and flavour. A bit of tomato paste was next, allowed to colour to concentrate its flavours and add some extra depth. A healthy splash of red wine was added and reduced by half before my secret ingredient – homemade veal stock – was added. A ladleful or two is enough. The veal stock added extra richness and depth of flavour that really makes this ragu stand out.

Finally, a whole dried peperoncino, one bay leaf, herbes de Provence, a small amount of my Nonna’s jarred tomatoes (passata would be my second choice), and the reserved mushrooms and veal were added back to the pan. The ragu was allowed to simmer to bring all the flavours together and cook out the excess liquid, the seasoning adjusted as needed. Fish out the spent peperoncino and whole garlic cloves when they’ve added enough flavour.

While the ragu was simmering I brought a large pot of water to the boil. Once boiling, the water was well salted and the rigatoni was added. When making pasta I always undercook the noodles by a couple minutes, finishing the cooking process in the sauce or ragu itself. This has two benefits – first, the pasta absorbs some of the sauce/ragu, and second, the starch from the pasta further thickens it.

A final hit of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano after plating and that’s about it! Start-to-finish, this took less than an hour from the time when my knives left the block to when the bowls hit the table. Note that the ragu will be pretty dry when ready. If you look at the photo above, the ragu really clings to the pasta and there is little-to-no “extra” left on the plate.

I decided to open a hearty Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that was new to my cellar as an accompaniment. The 2003 Agriverde Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has a big, brooding nose full of dark fruits and earth. It’s much more restrained and balanced on the palate showing good acidity that prevents it from being too heavy. The combination of earthiness and richness paired well with the ragu and drank much better with the meal than on its own. While I probably wouldn’t rush out to grab more of this wine at the pricepoint ($28CAD), I would be happy to drink it again.

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