Recipe: Beef Ragu with Warm Spices

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Makes 5 cups; enough for 1 pound pasta  
Cooking Time 8 to 9 hours on Low or 5 to 6 hours on High  Slow Cooker Size 5 1/2 to 7 Quarts

Why This Recipe Works: Making a true, long-simmered Italian meat sauce requires tending the stovetop for hours—so we decided to move ours to the slow cooker. Boneless beef short ribs turned meltingly tender after several hours of low, slow cooking and were easy enough to break apart into fork-friendly pieces right in the slow cooker once they were done. Onion and garlic provided essential aromatic notes, and a generous amount of tomato paste—2 tablespoons—added depth of flavor. To infuse our sauce with warm spice notes, we included cinnamon and cloves, blooming them in the microwave with the aromatics. Tomato puree ensured that our sauce had the right consistency. Though untraditional in pasta sauce, a big dose of soy sauce enhanced the meaty flavor of our ragu. After cooking, we stirred in some chopped parsley for a fresh finish. No one would ever guess this rich-tasting sauce was so easy to make.

 1 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch ground cloves

1 (28-ounce) can tomato puree

2  tablespoons soy sauce

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley


1. Microwave onion, tomato paste, oil, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves in bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes; transfer to slow cooker. Stir in tomato puree, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Trim fat from top and bottom of short ribs, season with salt and pepper, and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until beef is tender, 8 to 9 hours on low or 5 to 6 hours on high.

2. Using large spoon, skim excess fat from surface of sauce. Break beef into about 1-inch pieces with tongs. Before serving, stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.


Smart Shopping Tomato Puree

Tomato puree, like tomato sauce, is cooked and strained to remove the tomato seeds, making it much smoother and thicker than other canned tomato products. But tomato puree has a slightly thicker consistency than tomato sauce, which is why we use it in our slow-cooker sauces–it helps us achieve the consistency of a stovetop sauce without the benefit of the reduction that comes with a long simmer in an uncovered pot or skillet. Our favorite brand is Hunt's Tomato Puree, which offers a nice, thick consistency and tomatoey flavor.

From America's Test Kitchen's Slow Cooker Revolution, volume 2: The Easy-Prep Edition. America's Test Kitchen. (c) 2013