Authentic Tuscan Ragú

The best Italian food is simple, rustic and colourful

There must be a million ragú recipes out there, but this wonderfully versatile sauce plays such a big part in authentic Italian cookery, so one more won’t hurt. Made with the freshest ingredients and slow cooked to perfection, there is no doubt that a huge pot of rich, mahogany ragú bubbling away on the stove will set your taste buds tingling. The red wine and mix of different meats, beef and lamb mince and chicken livers really set this recipe apart from the rest and creates the most wonderful depth of flavour.
The versatility of this ragú is what I love the most; enjoy it with freshly made pasta or in a lasagne. But, for me its best served on toasted ciabatta bread, topped and vine tomatoes, freshly chopped basil and a few shavings of parmesan, all washed down with a delicious Italian red wine. Make a big batch and freeze it for delicious, but quick, weeknight meals.

I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve recently discovered a love of authentic Italian cookery, so I was delighted when I received an email from the folks at To Tuscany, explaining that they were running a foodie blogger competition, and they wanted me to enter. The idea is to post a Tuscan inspired recipe, which is something I was only too pleased to set about making. Having thought about the basics of Italian cookery, and the simplistic approach Italian’s seem to adopt when cooking, I knew the recipe had to encompass three things, fresh ingredients, good preparation and enjoyment. There is nothing the Italian’s love more that sitting down to enjoy a lovingly prepared meal over a lazy afternoon. And, given that seasonality plays such an important part in Italian cookery, only the freshest ingredients would do.
I’m excited at the prospect of a foodie competition, mostly because it allows me to put my thinking cap on and get creative, but also because I want to win a week in one of your Tuscany villas. Really I do! Imagine sitting in the warm Tuscan sunshine enjoying a glass of the finest Italian wine and munching your way through some delicious bruschetta, knowing you’ve earned your way there by creating a delicious Tuscan recipe. Fingers crossed!
Given that ragú is probably one of the most common Italian recipes, and one that is showcased in various different versions all across Italy, it may seem an obvious choice. But, ragú is all too often ruined by people mistaking it for a simple flavour combination; it’s a far cry from simple, dull or boring. Made with the best quality ingredients and just the right about of love your ragú will have the most wonderful depth of flavour, making you feel as if you’re enjoying an authentic Italian dish on a hill-top hamlet in Tuscany. We can but dream…

Authentic Tuscan Ragú Recipe

Recipe makes a large batch for freezing

250g Beef mince
250g lamb mince
200g Chicken livers, finely chopped
5 tbsp Italian extra virgin olive oil (such as De Cecco Il Classico)
800g chopped tomatoes
5 tbsp tomato purée
200ml of red wine
Salt and black pepper
Handful of freshly chopped basil
10 vine tomatoes, halved
4 tbsp parmesan shavings
A combination of the following ingredients finely chopped is what the Italian’s call Soffritto, which forms the basis of many authentic Italian meals:
2 Red onions
2 Carrots
2 Celery sticks
1 sprig of rosemary (optional in most Soffritto recipes)
2 bay leaves (optional in most Soffritto recipes)

Start by heating the oil in a pan and gently frying the red onion, carrots and celery. Add the rosemary and bay leaves. Cook until golden, about 12-15 minutes. Remove the rosemary and bay leaves and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Add the meats to the pan and continue to cook for a further 15 minutes. Once browned add the wine and stir well. Cook until the wine and fat from the meats has evaporated.
Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée and season to taste.
Serve with toasted ciabatta, topped with a generous spoonful or ragú, a few chopped vine tomatoes, freshly chopped basil and parmesan shavings.

Bon appétit!

 Wine Paring – Piccini Super Tuscan – medium bodied, it’s a blend of Sagiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, particularly good with red meat, pasta and rich tomato sauce – Perfect indeed!


Lamb with Roasted Red Onions and Basil (Nigellissima)

This morningafternoon I woke with a rather fuzzy head and what can only be described as a gargantuan appetite. A few too many gin and tonics last night may indeed be the reason behind my pounding headache, but the hunger was all too evident. The problem is, I am very often sick with a hangover so food is out of the question, even water doesn’t sit well in my stomach when I’m it this pathetic state. I waited, almost all day; I toyed with the idea of leaving my onsie on to pop to the supermarket in search of ingredients for dinner, then I reasoned with myself that this was probably socially ‘uncouth’ behaviour and a little, dare I say, trampy? So, having dressed and washed myself, I spent the next half an hour searching through various recipe books for something that would hit the spot. I came across a recipe for roasted red onions with basil in Nigella’s Nigellissima book.  
Nigella suggests lamb to accompany the dish, which I thought was pretty darn perfect, so off I popped to the supermarket in search of my ingredients, and some headache tablets.
This dish is perfect as it is, I didn’t feel I needed any carbs, but obviously you could have new, roasted or even sautéed potatoes with it. The fennel seeds, balsamic and basil are all punchy flavours that are delicious with the sweet roasted red onions and slightly rare lamb. Having cooked up this little feast, I was actually quite disappointed that I didn’t have company to share it with. I’ve a friend coming for dinner on Tuesday so I might try it with roasted brussels sprouts and red onions. If you’ve never had roasted brussels – make sure it’s something you try, they are a far cry from the soggy, cabbage smelling, over boiled ones your mum puts on your Christmas dinner plate. Sorry mum! But, honestly I’m almost certain that even those of you who wince at the thought of a brussels sprout will enjoy them roasted. 

For Nigella’s Roasted Red Onions with Basil Recipe click here!


Garlic, Lemon & Mint Roast Lamb

Roast lamb; my ultimate favourite, but so often overcooked. For me, meat is always far more tasty when it’s not completely overdone and getting a nice leg, or in this case half a leg, on the bone is best, it stays perfectly succulent. To be perfectly honest, cooked just right lamb barely needs improving by stacking on flavour upon flavour, but this combination works so beautifully. The lemon provides a wonderful citrus base, offset by the bite of five cloves of garlic and the fresh mint. What’s not to love?

As far as I am concerned Sundays are for nothing more than roast dinners and red wine, followed by a game of cards in the pub. I know, hard to believe I’m only 24 right! I often have my roast in the pub, I figure that if I’ll end up there later, I may as well grab a paper and do the cross word while someone else sweats over the hot stove, and washes the dishes. But, every now and again I feel it’s time to spend a Sunday at home. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday.

So I’m not going to write a huge post about how to pull together a roast with all the trimmings. I’m guessing most of you already know how to cook a roast, and if you’re one of those who haven’t mastered it yet, you’re probably not interested anyway. It’s all in the timing. Something that’s taken me ages to perfect. I can remember when I first started making roast dinners, the meat would be done before everything else, the potatoes soggy and the vegetables a little too al dente. But alas, I persevered and can say with a great sense of British pride that I am now able to cook a bloody good roast dinner.  

I probably loved this as much for the taste as I did the quickness of preparing it. Anything with that much flavour that can be rustled up in minutes is a no-brainer.

In a bowl, pour out equal parts olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 60mls of each), add five chopped garlic cloves and a packed of freshly chopped mint. Give the mixture a good stir.

Using a sharp knife cut incisions into the meat at 1cm intervals; don’t cut too deep otherwise the meat will dry out. Season the meat with salt and pepper before covering with the marinade, making sure that you allow the marinade to get right into the incisions.

Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours (overnight is best). Cook when ready. 


My Love of Marinating Meats

There’s something about the process of marinating meat and fish that appeals to me, although I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. It certainly isn’t the waiting. I’m a very impatient person, especially when it comes to food. But, its like this, chicken breast is great, but it’s even greater when it’s been sat in an bath of salty soy and nutty sesame oil, with a few chillies, some garlic and ginger thrown in. Oh, and a dash of fish sauce, and maybe some coriander. You get the point. Perhaps it’s the sheer simplicity of it. Yes, it takes time to sit, but it’s as simple as throwing everything together in a bowl and letting it hang out in the fridge for an hour or so, and you end up with this amazing depth of flavour that is impossible to create without letting the flavours mingle together. Take lamb for instance, delicious with mint sauce. Even more delicious marinated in red wine with garlic, rosemary and thyme then threaded onto skewers with thick wedges of red onion and barbecued to perfection. Yes I did just say barbecue in February!

The point I’m trying to make is simple, if you marinate your meat it will taste better. There is nothing quite like smothering a decent cut of meat in butter infused with garlic and herbs and layering lemon slices over the top. It’s like an explosion of harmonious tastes in your mouth. And, when you really start to think about marinating your food you’ll realise the flavour combinations are endless. 

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a little piece of advice, if you think it will work, it most probably will. Remember these basic foundations and you can’t go wrong:
  • Oil
  • Acid
  • Seasoning

Basically, it’s about taking great flavours that compliment each other and having some fun creating new recipes. Remember to season your marinade well, and taste it (before you put the raw meat in it). The consistency should be fairly thin in order to coat all of the meat, here’s a few of my ideas:

  • Garlic, white wine (or olive oil), lemon and thyme – perfect for chicken
  • Soy, garlic, ginger and lime – great with fish
  • Garlic, red wine, rosemary and thyme –delicious with lamb or beef
  • Extra virgin olive oil, chilli, garlic and basil – for perfect spicy prawns

Butter marinades are also fantastic and easy to rustle up. Place a large dollop of softened butter in a bowl, add chopped herbs, garlic, lemon zest and maybe even some chopped anchovies, season with salt and pepper and rub over your meat, cook as normal. Butter marinades work best when pushed under the skin of meats, they make the meat so tender and moist you won’t believe it.

Time – Marinating times vary depending upon the size and cut of meat, or indeed fish. For diced meats an hour is fine, for larger cuts of meat you may find 3-4 hours best. Fish will take slightly less time than diced meats. But, if you don’t have an hour to wait, make sure marinating is the first job you do, even if the meat gets half an hour in a pool of flavour it’s going to taste better than before.

Safety – Always leave meats to marinate in the fridge. When the temperature rises bacteria can develop. And, do not reuse marinade that has been in contact with raw meat; if you need extra marinade to serve retain some before marinating your meat.
Storage – Using a re-sealable plastic bag is a great way of marinating to ensure all of the meat is covered, plastic containers also work well. Avoid using metal bowls as the acid can react with the metal. 

Got an amazing marinade recipe? Comment below and share it with us…


Minted lamb kebabs with a Greek style salad

Friday is upon us at last. And today I have a treat in-store for you, a little Greek feast that can be on the table in just 15 minutes. You’ll have everyone thinking you have slaved away for at least an hour.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting bored of this drizzly gloomy weather already, holidays and sunshine seem such a distant memory. So I’m all about bringing some colour back to your table with this fresh and delicious Greek meal.

The crisp salad and tangy, slightly salty feta work wonderfully with fresh tomatoes and black olives. Combined in a pitta with the spiced lamb, a scattering of pomegranate and a drizzle of mint yoghurt, it’s heaven on a plate.

This meal is ideal for serving big numbers as you can prepare it all ahead of time, just double your ingredients per couple attending. Pile your kebabs on a large board with the pitta breads and yoghurt dip, scatter with pomegranate and garnish with a bunch of fresh mint – it’s a real show piece. Serve with a shot of Ouzo for a real Greek dinner party feel. Just make sure your guests don’t get carried away and smash all your plates!
for the Lamb Kebabs                                                      for the Greek Salad
300g diced lamb                                                             2 baby gem lettuces, roughly chopped
200g natural yoghurt                                                      Handful of cherry tomatoes halved
1 large red onion, chopped into chunks                         Handful of black kalamata olives
1 tbsp cumin                                                                    ½ red onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp mint sauce                                                            200g block of feta cheese, diced
2 tbsp fresh pomegranate                                              8 fresh mint leaves
4 pitta breads
Combine the lamb pieces with the cumin and 100g of yoghurt, place in the fridge and allow to marinate for 20 minutes. Meanwhile add the mint sauce to the remaining yoghurt, stir well and divide into 2 ramekins place this in the fridge along with the lamb.
Make your kebabs by threading the onion and lamb onto 4 skewers, alternating the lamb and onion pieces (this may be a little messy with the yoghurt, so get stuck in). Place the kebabs on a grilling tray and grill for 5 minutes on each side.
Place the lettuce in a large bowl, cover with tomatoes, olives, onion, feta and sprinkle over the mint leaves. Lightly toast the pitta breads, cut in half and assemble on a board with the yoghurt and mint dip. Place the kebabs in the middle and cover with fresh pomegranate seeds (arils).

Serves:                                  2
Preparation Time:                5 minutes
Cooking Time:                     10 minutes