Labor of Love Ragu

This sauce is a lot of work. It’s more than worth it.

  • Ingre­di­ents:
  • 1 lb. sweet Ital­ian sausage
  • 1 lb. ground beef
    • Option: Add 1 lb. hot Ital­ian sausage
  • 1 cup fine­ly chopped sweet onion
  • 4 cloves gar­lic, minced
  • 12 cup brown sug­ar
  • 12 cup chopped pars­ley
  • 1 tbsp. dried basil
    • Option: 14 cup fresh basil, fine­ly chopped
  • 12 tsp. black pep­per
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 24 oz. toma­to paste
  • 72 oz. crushed toma­toes (3 24-oz. cans)
  • Option: 72 oz. (6 lbs. ) fresh toma­toes
  • 1 cup water (if you use fresh toma­toes, make it 2 cups water)

Sautée onion; add to a large Dutch oven or stock pot.

Sautée beef and sausage; drain fat. You’ll want to chop it up to an extent so the sauce doesn’t have large chunks of meat. I like to use a Far­ber­ware nylon meat/potato mash­er. I like the sauce to be thick, but with some nice chunks of meat and toma­to here and there rather than a silky-smooth purée. YMMV.

Add toma­to paste and toma­toes: For the toma­toes, fol­low whichev­er method you pre­fer:

Option 1: Canned Tomatoes

If you use canned toma­toes, add the whole can of toma­toes along with the water and oth­er goop in the can.

Option 2: Fresh Tomatoes

I like to use toma­toes on the vine for this recipe, but any large toma­to will work just fine (Roma, cher­ry or grape toma­toes won’t work very well:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; place a large bowl or pot of ice water next to it and an emp­ty bowl next to the ice water.

Cut an X in each toma­to (not on the end with the stem, the oth­er end).

Put two or three toma­toes at a time in the boil­ing water and let them boil for a cou­ple of min­utes.

Remove them from the boil­ing water and drop them into the ice water for a minute or so.

Take the toma­toes from the ice water and peel them, start­ing with X you cut into the bot­tom. If the skin doesn’t want to come loose, boil and ice the toma­to again. It will take a bit of fid­dling with the process, but once you get the hang of it the skin will slide off most­ly in one piece.

So! Now you have a big bowl of skinned toma­toes. If I was Martha Stew­art or this was a Cor­don Bleu class, the next step would be to core each toma­to with a chef’s knife to ditch the seeds and that nasty stringy thing in the cen­ter.

You can cer­tain­ly do that if you want, but I’m not a Cor­don Bleu teacher and I’m sure as hell not Martha Stew­art, so here’s how I do it:

I don’t care if the seeds get in the sauce; I just want to get rid of that nasty stringy hard thingy in the mid­dle. So I grab a toma­to and just crush it with my fin­gers, rolling it around and squeez­ing hard.

The parts you want to put in the sauce will smoosh and ooze and squirt out between your fin­gers, and before long you’ll have just that nasty hard stringy core thingy left.

Okay, so why go through all this extra effort instead of using canned toma­toes?

I’m not one of the GMO-pho­bic folks you see online rant­i­ng about Mon­san­to, but I do enjoy cre­at­ing ingre­di­ents by hand if time and mon­ey allows. Canned toma­toes are gonna be salty; PCBs and preser­v­a­tives and oth­er stuff will leach into them.

But it’s not just that. I tend to appre­ci­ate and enjoy things more when I’ve put in some work rather than buy­ing it in a can or box or what­ev­er. Call it a labor of love.

No guilt, though: Like I said a cou­ple of times before, YMMV.

Once you’ve got every­thing in your big Dutch oven or stock pot, sim­mer it, uncov­ered, for 1 12 to 2 hours.


While it’s sim­mer­ing, stir it fre­quent­ly. I don’t mean every 15 min­utes or so between episodes of Robot Chick­en; I mean fre­quent­ly. A lot. Almost non­stop.

Why? Because this sauce is eager to stick to the bot­tom of the pot and burn, leav­ing behind a bad taste and grue­some residue you prob­a­bly won’t enjoy scour­ing out of your cook­ware.

There’s a bet­ter method, though:

Gen­tly bring to sauce up to a sim­mer, leav­ing it uncov­ered and stir­ring fre­quent­ly, until the toma­to paste has all dis­solved and your kitchen smells so good it’s attract­ing Gui­dos from all over the East­ern seaboard and you’re fight­ing them off with a base­ball bat. This usu­al­ly takes me about 15 min­utes, but your nose will let you know.

Remove the pot from heat and cov­er. Let it cool for a while, then trans­fer the luke­warm sauce to a slow-cook­er crock, cov­er, and stick it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, pull out the crock and voilà: The grease and fat will all be sit­ting on top, cooled into its own tiny lit­tle fat­berg. Spoon it all up and get rid of it, then put the crock back in the slow cook­er. Put it on low heat and let it gen­tly sim­mer as long as you like.

Now you can spend as much time mak­ing home­made pas­ta or watch­ing foot­ball or what­ev­er else you want to do until sup­per­time.

I solemn­ly and for­mal­ly swear: If you put in the effort this recipe demands, your dili­gence will be reward­ed so rich­ly you’ll nev­er again want to set­tle for stop­ping at Safe­way and snag­ging a jar of Prego or Ragu or what­ev­er.