Cinnamon and cloves add unexpected warmth to meaty beef short ribs in our modern Italian ragu.
Rigatoni with Warm-Spiced Beef Ragu
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS Rustic Italian-style ragu is all about low-and-slow simmering—it relies on lots of time but minimal heat to turn the meat, cooked with tomatoes and red wine, fall-apart tender. For this recipe, we liked beef short ribs, which turned tender and moist during braising; they gave the sauce a deep, savory flavor. Tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes made a sauce that was too smooth; although canned diced tomatoes created a chunkier sauce, tasters preferred the rustic texture and appearance of chopped whole canned tomatoes. Cinnamon and cloves, while unexpected, offered a subtle warmth. We also created a Greek-style version using lamb, oregano, and mint in place of beef, thyme, and parsley, increasing the amount of herbs and spices to balance the robust lamb flavor. This recipe will also work with flanken-style short ribs.
1½ pounds bone-in English-style short ribs, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
½ cup dry red wine
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained with juice reserved, chopped fine
1 pound rigatoni
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Grated Parmesan cheese
1. Pat ribs dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown ribs on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to plate.
2. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon fat from skillet, add onion, and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, cinnamon, and cloves and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and simmer until nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes.
3. Stir in tomatoes and reserved juice. Nestle ribs into sauce along with any accumulated juices and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently, turning ribs occasionally, until meat is very tender and falling off bones, about 2 hours.
4. Transfer ribs to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred meat into bite-size pieces using 2 forks; discard excess fat and bones. Using wide, shallow spoon, skim excess fat from surface of sauce. Stir shredded meat and any accumulated juices into sauce and bring to simmer over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve ½ cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Add sauce and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and adjust consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Serve with Parmesan.
Rigatoni with Minted Lamb Ragu
Substitute 1½ pounds bone-in lamb shoulder chops, trimmed, for short ribs, 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano for thyme, and 3 tablespoons minced fresh mint for parsley. Increase ground cinnamon to ¾ teaspoon and ground cloves to ⅛ teaspoon.
NOTES FROM THE TEST KITCHEN
All About Canned Tomatoes
Since canned tomatoes are processed at the height of freshness, they deliver more flavor than off-season fresh tomatoes. But with all the options lining supermarket shelves, it’s not always clear what you should buy. We tested a variety of canned tomato products to determine the best uses for each.
Whole tomatoes are peeled tomatoes packed in either their own juice or puree. They are best when fresh tomato flavor is a must. Whole tomatoes are quite soft and break down quickly when cooked. In taste tests, we preferred Muir Glen for their lively, fresh flavor.
Diced tomatoes are peeled, machine-diced, and packed in either their own juice or puree. Many brands contain calcium chloride, a firming agent that helps the chunks maintain their shape. Diced tomatoes are best for rustic tomato sauces with a chunky texture, and in long-cooked stews and soups in which you want the tomatoes to hold their shape. We favor diced tomatoes packed in juice because they have a fresher flavor than those packed in puree; our favorite is Hunt’s.
Crushed tomatoes are whole tomatoes ground very finely, then enriched with tomato puree. They work well in smoother sauces, and their thicker consistency makes them ideal when you want to make a sauce quickly. We like Tuttorosso, but you can also make your own by crushing canned diced tomatoes in a food processor.
Tomato puree is made from cooked tomatoes that have been strained to remove their seeds and skins. Tomato puree works well in long-simmered, smooth, thick sauces with a deep, hearty flavor. Our favorite brand is Muir Glen Organic.
Tomato paste is tomato puree that has been cooked to remove almost all moisture. Because it’s naturally full of glutamates, tomato paste brings out subtle depths and savory notes. We use it in a variety of recipes, including both long-simmered sauces and quicker-cooking dishes, to lend a deeper, well-rounded tomato flavor and color. Our preferred brand is Goya.