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By this time of the year, pot roast (boneless beef chuck roast, in this case) has lost the patina or excitement it so raptly held last fall. It’s been cold awhile and we’ve been eating “comfort food” for months. While the price hasn’t dropped much over all, there was a twofer sale at our local grocery and of course I still stocked up. The list for meat in the big garage freezer boasts way too many possibilities, but 4 pot roasts was still scratched onto its bottom. What to do with the first one for a special weekend meal? (Stay tuned about what fate awaits the rest of them.)

I could make my Colorado Green Chile Beef Stew:

or throw together my Tortellini and Shredded Beef in Broth: (Tortellini en brodo)

I could simply brown that sweet little roast, add the ubiquitous carrots, trusty onions, and showy potatoes, throw it into the oven or the slow cooker and go about my business. We could be happy as clams come nightfall. The next day there could be stew and perhaps two more hot beef sandwiches for lunch out of the leftovers. But I wasn’t having any of it. I wanted something totally different and you might feel the same by this time in the winter, which is when I sometimes go way out and do something like roast barbecue ribs in the oven, make potato salad, and sort of pretend it’s summer — at least at dinner time.

Speaking of winter…where’s our snow? We’ve had nearly zilch.  I miss it!

a photo from another winter…

Instead, I began thinking ragù. Pronounced just like the jars of sauce in the store, as in “rag-GOO,” but, wait–

Was this to be a RAGÙ or a RAGOUT?

FOOD AND WINE says,

They’re both saucy, both hearty and both pronounced the same way, but ragù and ragout are not the same thing. Let’s break it down: Ragù is a class of Italian pasta sauces made with ground or minced meat, vegetables and, occasionally, tomatoes. Bolognese, for example, falls under the ragù umbrella. Ragout, on the other hand, is a slow-cooked French-style stew that can be made with meat or fish and vegetables—or even just vegetables. You can eat it on its own, or with a starch like polenta or couscous or pasta.

These very different dishes have one additional, great thing in common: Both are incredibly delicious and satisfying on a cold winter night. Here, our best recipes for both ragù and ragout.

DEFINITION/ETYMOLOGY: The term comes from the French ragoûter, meaning: “to revive the taste”. The Italian ragù (the word being borrowed from French) is a sauce such as Ragù Napoletano used typically to dress pasta. (courtesy WIKIPEDIA)

Whatever name it was going to have I went ahead and browned the meat with flour, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, but then added lots of onions, celery, and garlic with a little bit of chopped carrot for sweetness. I darn near drowned that beef with tomatoes and wine, and then tossed in every Italian-like herb I had…well, almost.  It was the perfect, intoxicating aroma on a snowy afternoon… What could go wrong?

Turns out nothing.  Dreamy smooth beds of polenta began drifting through my mind as time wore on. I would shred the beef, heat it through in the spicy sauce, eat it Italian-style on the polenta laced with finely grated lemon rind, and serve it with a side of hot crispy broccoli salad.  In fact, maybe the piquant buttery polenta could be the star. Why not? I’d never heard of lemon polenta before I thought of it, but it’s staying in my repertoire now.

SIDE: Quickly sautéed broccoli, to which I added minced red onion and topped off with a good drizzle each of Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

I will tell you, however, I did have hard time deciding whether to name it a ragù or a ragout…  In the end, I chose “ragù” as the meat was, at least in the end, somewhat finely chopped and I really think this leans toward Italian, not French.

Whatever you want to call it is just fine, though, because you’ll be oh-so-happy when you try this: (and, oh, don’t forget to leave the cell phones in the other room during dinner…)

LEMON POLENTA with BRAISED BEEF RAGÙ 

6 servings

This is the sort of meal I enjoy sniffing, breathing in, and anticipating all afternoon long while it cooks in the oven. If you’re in a hurry, you might use Jamie Oliver’s recipe for ragù in the pressure cooker (see MORE INFO below). 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper or more to taste
  • 2.5 – 3 pound boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed
  • 1 cup EACH chopped onion and celery
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups EACH:  dry red wine and water
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (Freeze leftover in a small bag for another day.)
  • 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, and basil
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Large sprig rosemary or 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
  • Lemon Polenta, for serving (recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about a 2 ounce chunk) and 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES Fahrenheit and place rack at center.

Heat a cast-iron Dutch oven* (6-quart) or similar with olive oil over medium heat-high flame until quite hot.  Meanwhile, mix flour with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper; rub flour mixture well onto both sides of the beef roast. Add the meat to the hot Dutch oven and let one side brown very well–about 5 minutes. Turn and begin browning the other side.

Add vegetables (onion, celery, carrot, garlic) around the meat and let cook, stirring regularly while the meat browns on the second side. After another 5 minutes or so– when the vegetables have softened– pour in wine, water, tomatoes, tomato paste and add herbs. Stir well. Make sure meat is nearly covered; if not, add extra wine or water. Bring to a boil. Cover and place Dutch oven in oven. Let cook another 2 – 2.5 hours or until the beef is fork tender.

Remove beef to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes. Trim fat and gristle and discard.  Slice and chop or shred meat with forks. Skim fat off the top of the sauce if necessary. Return beef to pot of sauce and bring to a simmer.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve meat and sauce hot, ladled over lemon polenta. Other choices instead of polenta as a bed for the ragù might be mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower, rice,  pasta, or crispy thick slices of garlic bread.

Garnish each dish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley.

*No Dutch oven?  Begin by using a big skillet to brown meat and vegetables.  Transfer it all very carefully to a deep casserole, perhaps adding liquids then, and cover tightly with aluminum foil. May take a bit longer to cook as the liquids will have to come to a simmer in the oven rather than on the stove.

{printable recipes for beef ragu and lemon polenta}

WINE:  Go with a Chianti Classico you like or one the wine shop recommends. No need to spend great big wads of cash. Just a thought: this wine is food wine, not porch wine, and won’t be terribly happy without a warm plate of something to gentle its somewhat rough edges. If you try it before you sit down at the table, you may be a tad disappointed. Try it again after a bite or two and see how your tastes change!

ALYCE’S LEMON POLENTA 

6 servings

Need only 4 servings? Decrease everything by 50%, but taste carefully for seasoning at the end; you may need to add a little more salt and/or pepper.

  • 3 cups each milk and water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse cornmeal (I use Bob’s Corn Grits–see below)
  • 3 tablespoons salted, soft butter
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about 1/2 cup)–or more to taste
  • Finely grated rind of one large fresh lemon

Off heat, whisk together milk, water, salt, pepper, and cornmeal in a heavy 6-quart pot. (I like cast iron.)  Place pot over medium flame and bring to a healthy simmer. Cook, stirring regularly, until quite thickened. Lower heat as low as you can, cover and cook, stirring occasionally until tender and smooth, tasting until polenta is done. 20-30 minutes total. (If polenta becomes thick, but isn’t cooked yet — tastes grainy/gritty– add a little more water and cook a bit longer.)

Remove from heat. Stir in butter, cheese, and lemon rind. Taste and adjust seasonings. Cover to keep warm until needed. If cools and thickens, whisk in a little water until thinned to desired texture and reheat.

COOK’S NOTE ABOUT STIRRING and WHAT TO STIR WITH:  I am not a slave to stirring my polenta continuously and nor should you be. While it cooked, I chopped the beef for my sauce, sautéed broccoli, set the table, chatted up the hub, watched a little tv, and gave the pot a lick and a promise with the whisk in between.  I’m pretty addicted to the whisk for this chore–Mi piace*– but some people are really attached to a wooden spoon and even like stirring in one direction continually. I don’t have that sort of patience. You?

*it pleases me in Italian

This is what I use for polenta (above)

MORE INFO:

NUTRITION INFO: A single serving of the ragu with polenta is about 600 calories. 26 grams of protein. 22 gram carbohydrates. 34 grams of fat. 4 grams fiber., 589 mg sodium. (according to My Fitness Pal, which can be a bit tricky to use, I’ll add)  Not the lowest cal or fat recipe on the blog, but not bad if you only have red meat occasionally and especially if you’ve been making one of the nearly-all vegetable soups! The fiber quotient is also more if you’ve added a side of broccoli, for instance, which is 2.6 grams of fiber per cup. Eat your veggies!

What is Polenta? (Williams-Sonoma)

Mark Bittman’s No-Fear Polenta

Mark Bittman’s Polenta Video

Jamie Oliver’s Pappardelle with Beef Ragu (Instant Pot or Electric Pressure Cooker)

Instant Pot Italian Pot Roast from What’s Cookin Chicago

Slow Cooker Braised Beef Ragu Recipe

Difference between braising and stewing

IF YOU LIKE THIS, YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE MY:

Slow Cooker French Pork Stew

Make a new stew and enjoy winter,

Alyce