Monday, 23 September 2013

Slow-cooked chuck steak ragu with pappardelle, girolles and sage leaves

The relationship between food and family and friends is extremely close and important to me. Growing up as part of a large family, my parents would often be busy cooking two or three different meals per evening for fussy children of different ages, and then finally themselves. Despite this, they always made sure that we all sat down and had dinner together at least 4-5 times a week, and this is something that I will be very keen to pass down when I am a father. Most of my memories involve food. Big family Sunday roasts with steaming joints of chicken. The day my dad called me to the kitchen to make me try a mussel he was cooking for a dinner party (I hated it!). Gazing through old cookbooks with my mum, and really wanting to make the cake that was a house in the shape of a boot, complete with a shredded wheat roof. Thinking about these times fills me with a warmth and happiness. Food is so much more than a fuel to keep us alive, it binds us socially, creates atmosphere and inspires. The wafting smell of bread baking in the oven does so much more than just produce a loaf for toast. 

As I have grown older this bond between food and my social life has become stronger. Nowadays I love nothing more than having friends over for a good meal and a glass or two of wine. I enjoy going out to nice restaurants and eating fancy food where every ingredient intrigues, but my fondest meals are ones where the food is a background constant to bustling conversation. For this kind of occasion, cooking should not dominate; I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen away from my friends. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be good, it just needs to be approached in a different way.

On this occasion a few weeks ago, a couple of old friends were coming over for dinner. At first I was just going to knock together a simple but tasty one pot supper, something casual to plonk on the table for everyone to help themselves. This was thrown out the window the day before however, when they told me that they had seen this blog, and they had high expectations of what they would be served. This presented me with a challenge, as I had to try and create something impressive that was practical socially. All those memories of dad making his dinner party staple of salmon en croute came flooding back!

Salmon was not on the menu for me however. I love making pasta, and the thought of a slow-cooked, meaty ragu sauce was too much to resist. This ticked all of my worry boxes; the homemade pasta and flavoursome sauce would please my guests, and I would be able to make the whole thing in advance.

I know that in the last month I have cooked beef a lot, with a tartare, a Wellington and now a ragu, but for this meal it worked perfectly. My only dilemma was the cut to use. Ideally I would have used something with bags of flavour like cheek, shin or oxtail. But as it was a Sunday and I had limited time on my hands, I left the butchers with a whopping piece of chuck. This is the joy of local, independent butchers; you can really talk to them about what you want to cook, and they have the wealth of knowledge to advise. So although they didn’t have the cuts I was looking for (but would have been able to order with a few days notice), I left with something that was still bang up for the job.

Britain has some wonderful mushrooms, and a quick gaze at this blog will tell you that I am obsessed with them. I am lucky that my local greengrocer has a wide range, and I really recommend searching in local food markets. But if you can’t get hold of girolles, then meaty, strong mushrooms such as chestnut or portabella will also work well.

Lots of this preparation can be done days before it is needed, and aside from the pasta, requires very little time. The sauce itself gets better over time, and any leftovers are great with potatoes or as a pie filling.

Serves 6-8


For the pasta:

600g strong ‘00’ grade flour

6 eggs
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil

For the ragu:

1.5kg chuck steak, cut into 2-3” chunks

200g plain flour
2 onions, finely chopped
1 head of garlic, chopped in half
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
200g button mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
10 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
½ bottle of red wine
1.5ltr good beef stock
Salt and pepper 

6 rashers smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped

50g butter, cubed
40g pecorino, finely grated

For the sage leaves:

About 30 sage leaves

3-4 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying

For the girolles:

About 30 girolle mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

30g butter
½ clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

To finish:

Grated pecorino

Extra virgin olive oil

Get the ragu going to start with. Tip the plain flour onto a plate and season well, then use this mixture to lightly dust the chuck steak. Heat up a large, heavy bottomed saucepan to a high temperature and add 2 tbsp of oil. Cook the meat in batches, searing quickly until well browned on all sides before removing to a plate. When all of the meat is cooked, add the onions and celery. Sautee for a couple of minutes until coloured, then add the carrots, garlic, mushrooms and herbs. Continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes then pour in the red wine. Bring to the boil and allow to reduce slightly, then put the meat back into the pan. Cover with the stock, topping up with water if needed. Season well and bring back to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Cover with a lid and cook for about 5 hours, until the meat is falling apart. 


While the ragu is cooking, make the pasta. Add the flour, eggs, salt and oil to a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Tip out onto a clean surface and pat together, then knead well for 10-15 minutes. The dough should be soft in texture but not sticky. Wrap well in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour, preferably longer.

When the dough has rested, remove it from the fridge and cut it into four pieces. Dust with a little flour, then pass one piece through the widest setting of a pasta machine. Repeat 7-8 times, or until the dough has a really elastic texture. Rub with a little more flour if it starts to turn sticky at this point. Now roll the pasta down through each setting on the machine you get to the second thinnest; number 5 on an Imperia machine. Sprinkle the outside of the sheet with flour, cover with a clean tea towel and repeat with the other pieces of pasta dough. Cut the sheets to the length that you want the pappardelle to be, then pass through the pasta cutter. Dust a cooling rack with flour and lay the individual strands down to dry. Keep the pasta separate and in one layer to avoid sticking. 


To prepare the sage leaves, pour the oil in a small frying pan and put on a medium-high heat. When hot, add the sage in batches and cook for 20-30 seconds, or until crispy, then remove to a plate lined with kitchen roll. Set aside until needed later.

After 5 hours, carefully remove the meat and a little of the liquid to a bowl and allow to cool. Once cold, finely shred the meat and set aside. Strain the remaining stock from the saucepan through a sieve into a large bowl and discard the cooked vegetables. Set a large, high-sided frying pan or skillet onto a medium-high heat and add a little oil. Add the bacon and cook for a couple of minutes until starting to colour, then add the shallot and fry for another 2 minutes. Now pour in the strained stock. Turn the heat up and allow to reduce by at least half, until just enough is left to hold the shredded meat. Turn down to a simmer and add the meat, combining well so that the sauce and meat come together as one. Taste and season if necessary, then turn the heat right down until needed. 


Fill a large saucepan with well-salted water and bring to the boil.

While the water is boiling, raise the heat of the ragu sauce pan to a simmer.

When the water boils add the pasta. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until just al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, add the cubed butter and grated pecorino to ragu sauce and stir well to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed. As soon as the pasta is cooked, use tongs to transfer the pappardelle to the pan with the ragu and toss to combine well, so that every strand is coated. Remove from the heat.

Heat up a medium sized frying pan to a moderate temperature and add the butter for the mushrooms. Fry the garlic for 30 seconds then add the prepared girolles, cooking for another couple of minutes until crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.

To plate, spoon a generous amount of the pasta into bowl and top with some of the girolles and sage leaves. Grate over some more pecorino, grind some black pepper and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.

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