This rustic Italian Beef Ragu requires minimum skill or effort as it is made easily in a slow cooker. The rich and chunky ragu is packed with vibrant flavour and is so satisfying to eat. Use it with pasta or in lasagna and freeze the rest!
Not planning to use a slow cooker? Check out my Tuscan Ragu!
I am going to admit openly that I am not a big fan of crock pots. Mine doesn’t get used very often, mostly because I enjoy the cooking process and am too much of a control freak to let the slow cooker take over.
I also find meals cooked in a crock pot taste too similar to each other. They taste like stew. I like stew but not every day of the week.
I am however, a HUGE fan of tender, melt-in-your-mouth, big and bold flavour meat. And if a slow cooker has to take the centre stage for this to happen, so be it. I suppose I can share the limelight…for one day.
Have you ever had a really tasty and satisfying Italian beef ragu at your favourite Italian restaurant? I am talking about rich and satisfying meat based tomato sauce that’s been cooked for hours allowing for deep flavours to build and blend into a beautiful medley.
I really love rustic dishes that look scruffy and taste earthy. While this may not exactly be food art it is a beautiful sight nonetheless. And I can’t even begin to describe how tender and flavourful this ragu is!
Truth is, not all incredible food needs to be high cuisine. Sometimes all we need is kick-ass flavour to turn dinner into something special.
And this ragu has heaps of flavour, with savoury beef, sweet and acidic tomatoes and rich red wine. Truly this is the king of pasta sauces!
What is Italian Beef Ragu?
Just imagine a 4 pound hunk of beef smothered in plum Italian tomatoes, fresh rosemary and thyme. Then it is sprinkled with salt and pepper and minced garlic and drowned in half a bottle of Chianti. It is then left simmering slowly for 12…that’s right, 12 hours over low heat.
How can it not taste divine?
Italian Beef Ragu and Bolognese sauces are twins but not exactly the same. There are differences but they are so subtle that many Italians use the words interchangeably.
The main characteristic of the beef ragu is it’s heavily meat-based sauce. If you see more meat than tomato, you’ve got yourself a proper Italian beef ragu.
The bold taste of this sauce will leave you gobsmacked. I mean in a complete disbelief that you barely lifted a finger for this awesomeness to come out of your kitchen. Crock pot, you win.
Beef ragu pasta
You are probably wondering how to eat this delicious sauce. Well, seeing that it’s Italian I served it with pappardelle pasta and and generous grating of parmesan cheese.
Actually you can serve this beef ragu with any pasta of your choice. Just bear in mind that it’s a robust sauce, so your pasta should match it.
No delicate capellini or even spaghetti will do quite as well. It will, however, taste great with rigatoni, penne or any other sturdy pasta.
Serving this ragu with pasta may be the most obvious way to go, but it also could be the best. The rich sauce and chunks of beef coat pasta beautifully, especially when using a thick and hearty pasta like pappardelle or tagliatelle.
It’s a rich pasta sauce, so is at its best when paired with something lighter that can cut through the beef. My go-to is a caprese salad with sweet tomatoes and fresh basil, but a simple green salad will also do nicely.
Although this delicious beef ragu is Italian by origin don’t let it stop you from serving it with anything you can think of. At the end of our dinner tonight, we all agreed this meat would taste absolutely amazing in a burrito, served on top of rice or even with some potatoes.
Recipe tips and notes
- Because of the slow cooking process and the number of other flavours added to the beef, there isn’t a lot of benefit in buying an expensive cut of meat. This is a good recipe to save money on a cheap cut of meat, which will become tender and flavourful as it cooks.
- The red wine is an amazing source of flavour for a ragu and I always keep a bottle on hand to use in recipes like this. If you don’t want to cook with wine, it can be replaced with beef stock.
- Barley is optional, but is a great way to thicken the ragu while adding nutrition. Barley doesn’t add a lot of flavour beyond a subtle nuttiness, but makes the ragu creamier by releasing starch during the cooking process.
- A hearty pasta sauce needs a hearty pasta, so choose a thick pasta like pappardelle, fettuccine or tagliatelle.
Storage and leftovers
This Italian beef ragu incredibly versatile and because you cook a whole roast you are bound to have lots of leftovers.
There are a lot of ways to use leftover ragu other than serving it with pasta. I’ve actually used it in two different recipes: Rustic Three Cheese Lasagna and Italian Beef and Roasted Red Pepper Quesadillas.
This ragu freezes absolutely beautifully! And let me tell you, you will be so pleased to find a container of this goodness on a night when you can’t possibly face spending a long time in the kitchen!
Crock Pot Rustic Italian Beef Ragu
- 1.5-2 kg /3-4lbs beef roast the cheapest cut will do
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2-3 sprigs handful each fresh rosemary and fresh thyme stems discarded and leaves finely chopped
- 1 small red onion peeled and finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
- 1 carrot peeled and finely chopped
- 1 celery stick finely chopped
- 375 ml / 1 ½ cups red wine such as Chianti
- 3×400 g /14oz cans chopped tomatoes crushed tomatoes for North America
- 2 tbsp pearl barley optional
- 1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 500 g /1lb fresh or dried pappardelle pasta or rigatoni
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 handfuls grated Parmesan cheese plus more for garnish
- Chop onion, carrot and celery, mince garlic and chop rosemary and thyme and put everything on the bottom of a crock pot.
- Cut roast into 2″-3″ cubes and brown them in olive oil in a frying pan over high heat in stages, don’t overcrowd the meat so it browns nicely. Add it to the vegetables.
- Taking the frying pan off the heat, pour wine into the pan and use wooden spoon to loosen all the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan, that's where much of the flavour is concentrated. Pour the wine into the crock pot along with canned tomatoes.
- Sprinkle barley all over, which will add texture and more flavour to your ragu, not to mention fibre and nutrients. Add a teaspoon of salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook on low for 10-12 hours.
- In the last hour take the lid off and shred the beef with two forks, add one more tablespoon of fresh rosemary and thyme and a splash of water or wine if the meat is too dry. Cook for one hour longer.
- At the end of cooking time stir in butter for more flavour and to add a gloss to your ragu.
- Before serving cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package directions. Combine ⅓ of beef ragu with hot pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.