I've been cooking a lot of pasta recently, perhaps due to the winter blues. It is after all a wonderful comfort food. Our local organic supermarket sells one of the best brands of dried pasta I have tried - La Terra e il Cielo (http://www.laterraeilcielo.it). It's pricey, but what Italian would begrudge a few extra pounds for quality (I'm not Italian by the way!).
In past blogs I have waxed lyrical about the merits of a slow cooker and once again it is put to good use here to effortlessly knock up this superior ragu. Speak to your mum or granny, she is sure to have a slow cooker gathering dust in the back of the cupboard - go and nick it. Long slow cooking is the way forwards with this dish - 8 hours or more. Chuck everything in the pot, set the slow cooker running in the morning or overnight and Bob's your Uncle. Will easily feed 6 to 8.
Oxtail cut from the thick end - 500g
Pork Belly - in one piece - 300g
Chuck steak in one piece - 300g
A little olive oil
1 medium onion, peeler and finely chopped
Carrots - 2 large, peeled and split down the middle
Celery - 2 sticks, finely chopped
Garlic - 4 fat cloves, peeled
Passata - 500ml
A glass of bog standard red wine
Rosemary - 1 large sprig
Thyme - 3 bushy sprigs
Bay leaves - 2
Parsley - 1 large handful of leaves
Pecorino - 100g
There are two ways to proceed, the proper way or the quick way. Both will result in a fantastic ragu but browning the meat and vegetables does add a extra depth of flavour - your call.
Have a look at the chuck steak, trim off any visible sinew (fat is fine) and cut into chunks in such a way that when the meat is tender and shreds down, you are not left with very long strands of meat. Cut across the grain to ensure the resulting strands are less than an inch long. De-rind the pork belly and cut into chunks the same as the beef. Trim the oxtails of any huge lumps of fat and skin but don't go mad....the slow cooking will melt most of it away, you are just trying to reduce the oil content in the finished stew.
Season the meat well and then brown in a little olive oil in a searing hot pan. You may need to cook the meat in batches. Transfer the meat to the bowl of the slow cooker and then fry off the vegetables until they have taken on some colour. Add those to the slow cooker bowl. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scrapping any residue off the base - loads of flavour in those little caramelised bits. Reduce the wine by half and then chuck that into the slow cooker along with everything else except the pecorino and parsley. If you don't have the time or inclination to brown everything - just chuck the lot into the slow cooker skipping all of the above!
Season the contents of the slow cooker well, lid on and set the machine to low. Simmer for 8 hours or more - you can't really overcook this dish. The dish is done when the oxtail bones can be lifted from the mix clean - the meat should just fall away. Allow the ragu to cool then by hand, pick through the sauce removing any bones, the herb stalks, the bay leaves and any fatty nasty bits. Shred the meat and squish the vegetables as you go. Mix well and taste for seasoning.
Cook your pasta. Blitz the pecorino in a food processor to get that 'nibbled' appearance. Warm the ragu and throw in the finely chopped parsley at the end. Toss the pasta through the sauce adding a little pasta water if the end result looks too dry. Finish with the pecorino.