Few things wrap themselves around pasta quite like the ragu. Three and a half hours of gentle simmering and that meat is ready to embrace every fold, nook and cranny of carbohydrate. You wait a long time for it to collapse, reduce and intensify and so a generous portion is essential as a reward. When you’ve finished devouring, it is perfectly possible that you may need a lie down and then, probably, a nap.
I managed to stick out three and a half hours cooking this ragu. At one point I thought it might need four, and in my delicate mental state owing purely to the anguish of delayed gratification I almost shed a little tear. I’m sure none of you lot would be so fragile and unreasonable in the face of a half cooked stew though, so don’t let that put you off.
While the persona of the ragu is like that of a mature and erudite gentleman, the gremolata zips in with the energy of a three year old given free reign with the sherbet dip dabs. The chipper mix of lemon zest, parsley and garlic is, for me, the perfect condiment, skipping around those wintry depths with perky high notes.
This is solid Sunday food. It’s indulgent, comforting and takes a long time to cook. It also gives you time to get into character with it; I pretended I was Keith Floyd in his heyday as I poured an entire bottle of gutsy red over some large pieces of meat and then settled down with a glass of my own.
Beef Ragu Papardelle with Gremolata
800g beef shin
2 large carrots, finely diced
2 large sticks celery, lightly peeled and finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
2 bay leaves, slightly torn
1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes
1 bottle red wine (not crap)
2 large cloves garlic, very finely chopped
A large sprig of thyme, leaves only
Pasta, to serve
For the gremolata
Handful parsley leaves, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons, finely chopped or grated (if you can only get waxed lemons, give them a good scrub under a hot tap)
Add some olive oil to a large, heavy based pan and add the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves and garlic and sweat gently, with the lid on, for 10-15 minutes until they softened. Season the beef shin well all over and add it, plus everything else. Bring to the boil then turn down very low, put the lid on and simmer gently for 3-4 hours, until the sauce is thick and the meat is falling off the bone. Remove all the pieces of bone and discard. Flake up the meat if it hasn’t done so by itself and add back to the sauce. Adjust the seasoning and serve mixed through pasta of your choice (papardelle is good as it is quite big and robust).
For the gremolata, just mix everything together and sprinkle over your pasta.