We eat a lot of pasta at our place, but it tends to be when I’m in a hurry and need to cook something quick and easy for dinner. This dish is a departure from that theme, because making a good beef ragu requires lots of time in order to develop a complexity of flavors and a melting, tender texture. Slow cooking is the answer, and what could be more ideal than the water oven?
The recipe is a wonderful cold-weather dish, so canned diced tomatoes are your best bet. I find that fresh tomatoes out of season usually disappoint. The porcini mushrooms have an intense, earthy flavor that really sets the sauce apart. The ragu can be made without the mushrooms, but I urge you to try this version.
Feel free to experiment with other combinations of herbs and spices, such as rosemary or oregano. Unlike many “American” marinara sauces, this ragu is not a heavy red sauce so the other ingredients really do stand out.
Unless you have a chamber vacuum sealer, you’ll need to use food bags with a self-sealing mechanism, such as zip lock bags. The folks at SousVide Supreme have launched their own brand with a heavier gauge plastic, and the bags are free of phthalates, BPA, and lead. They work like a charm.
- Preheat the water bath to 160°F (71°C).
- Place the dried porcini in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup of boiling water. Let the mushrooms soak for 15 minutes or until soft. Drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Chop the mushrooms.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the chopped porcini, carrot, onion, celery, garlic, celery leaves, fennel, thyme, and red pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the wine, raise the heat to high, and cook until the wine evaporates. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the reserved porcini soaking liquid. Season with salt to taste. Let the mixture cool.
- Divide the beef between two large food bags, arranging the meat in a single layer. Add half of the tomatoes to each bag. Divide the cooked aromatics between the two bags. Seal the bags using the water displacement method.
- Cook the beef for at least 28 hours or up to 48 hours.
- If you don’t planning on immediately assembling the final dish, quick-chill the food bags in an ice-and-water bath. Refrigerate the chilled meat sauce for up to 3 days. Reheat over low heat before continuing with the recipe.
- When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the rigatoni. Cook according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile, empty the warm contents of the two food bags into a large serving bowl. Roughly shred the beef using two forks. Drain the pasta and add the rigatoni to the bowl. Toss the pasta with the meat and sauce. Garnish with fresh basil, if using, and sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve hot.