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I think what I love most about Italian cooking is the simplicity of the ingredients. The flavors coaxed out of each one is amazing and together they combine to form the perfect pairing of rustic yet sophisticated dishes. Take, for example, this Italian Beef Ragu. A staple of northern Italy, a ragu is a thick, full-bodied meat sauce that usually contains beef, tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. The already flavorful sauce is then further enhanced with wine and herbs.
A beef ragu typically starts with a cheap cut of meat, in this case, beef shanks, along with a handful of pantry ingredients. Add to that a long, slow simmer and you create a sauce that is flavorful and delicious from the very simplest of ingredients. Italian cooking is a prime example of how food can taste amazing without costing a fortune. The biggest commodity in this recipe is time – and we can even further reduce that by utilizing the crock pot. I used the stovetop braising method but have included instructions for both methods.
I modeled my recipe after some great professional chefs like Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan — then tailored it to what I had on hand so that it’s actually not the same as either one. I’ve varied them just slightly mixing and matching to arrive at a recipe that uses what I have on hand in my pantry but still keeping the flavors similar to a traditional Beef Ragu.
The tender, savory sauce featured here is made from beef shanks, but other cuts of meat may be substituted such as chuck roast, oxtails, or other cuts that benefit from a long, slow braise – like beef stew meat.
Serve this ragu with a thick, hearty pasta (think tagliatelle, pappardelle, or Gemelli) able to stand up to the thick, meaty sauce. Serving this over a polenta (coarsely ground yellow cornmeal grits) is a lovely alternative. My favorite though is with freshly grilled Italian bread and pillowy, fresh potato gnocchi.
Save this Italian Beef Ragu to your “Dinner” or “Beef”, or “Italian” boards.
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A staple of northern Italy, a ragu is a thick, full-bodied meat sauce that usually contains beef, tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. The already flavorful sauce is then further enhanced with wine and herbs.
- 2.5 lbs beef shank, oxtails, chuck roast, or beef stew meat cut into 1.5-inch chunks [See Note 1]
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 onion, diced small
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour [See Note 2]
- 1 (28 ounce) can tomato puree or crushed tomatoes
- 1-1/2 cups red wine like chianti, merlot, or cabernet sauvignon [See Note 3]
- 2 cups beef stock , optional [See Note 4]
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (or 1/2 tsp dried rosemary)
- 4 bay leaves, fresh or dried
- 1 to 2 tbsps balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Pat beef dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil over high heat in a heavy pot or Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid. Add beef and sear each piece on all sides until browned; about 3 minutes total. If browning in batches, remove each batch to a plate and set aside.
- Turn stove down to medium low and add remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil.
- Add the garlic and onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Next add the carrots and celery and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir well to combine. Pour in the wine to degraze the pan and allow to boil for about a minute, then add the tomatoes and stir to combine.
- Add the remaining ragu ingredients into the pot and then add the browned beef along with any collected juices.
- Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil, then cover with a tight fitting lid (or aluminum foil) and place in the hot oven for around 3 hours, or until the meat becomes very tender. Stir occasionally. If too much liquid evaporates during the cooking process and the sauce becomes too thick, add a splash of water or beef stock to loosen the sauce to your desired consistency.
- Remove the pan from the oven shred the meat with two forks on a rimmed baking sheet . Discard the bones (if using shanks or oxtails). Return meat into the sauce. Skim off any excess fat with a serving spoon.
- Add Worcestershire sauce or balsamic vinegar, season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaves.
- If the sauce is too loose, simmer uncovered to reduce the sauce. Alternatively, you could also add a slurry of flour and water to quickly thincken the sauce. [See Note 5]
- Serve with pasta, polenta, gnocchi, or grilled Italian bread.
- Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week or freeze in an airtight container or zip top bag for up to 3 months.
- In the case of oxtails, leave them whole and cut between the segments.
- Gluten free use gluten-free flour or corn starch.
- You may substitute the wine for beef broth. There will be a substantial loss of flavor in doing so.
- You may substitute additional beef broth for water or water with bouillon – following the package directions for the amount of bouillon to use per each cup of water.
- Flour-water slurry: Add 2 tbsp flour into the bottom of a small mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup water and mix well with a small whisk or fork. Be sure it is free of lumps. add it into the sauce to thicken.
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