Ragù alla Marinara Sauce



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There seems to be a tomato sauce and a Ragù sauce from every city in Italy, which would be a couple of different sauces for every day of the year. There are differences in each and some of them totally different. The sauces can range in a spectrum of a meat gravy to a thick paste. Some are sweet and some not so much. This dish is a sweet Ragù alla Marinara Sauce.

A Ragù is a “meat-based” tomato sauce commonly served with pasta. I have listed a Roman Ragù recipe on this blog. The Roman Ragù sauce is mostly meat gravy with vegetables (soffritto) where tomatoes are added for color to minced carrots, celery and onions. A Bolognese Ragù is a Roman Ragù with cream or milk added.

A Marinara sauce is a “thick” Italian sauce without meat. It originated in Naples, usually made with tomatoes, garlic, herbs (mostly basil), and onions. The story goes this sauce was prepared by sailors (mariners) for the sauce’s ability to resist spoilage owing to the acid in the tomato. Mostly Italian-Americans refer to the sauce as a Marinara but it is called a Napolitana sauce in other parts of the world.

A Napoletan Ragù (from Naples) has lots of onions, a soffritto and big chunks of beef that cook in the tomatoes for many hours. In this recipe I use ground beef, ground pork and a thick slice of prosciutto chopped – no soffritto. The selection of meat is not the issue as the absence of a soffritto is a noticeable departure.

So to be precise, I call this Ragù alla Marinara Sauce. To make a “thick”, sweet, red sauce I use tomato puree instead of a tomato sauce. Puree is much thicker. I pre-blend tomato paste in red wine. I cook it in a frying pan versus a sauce pan to put a larger heat area under the sauce and cook it for an hour or more on low. Periodically, I add a little stock to keep it moist but I want to serve it as thick as ketchup.


Serves 2 -4
• 1 – ¼” slice of prosciutto (diced)
• ½ Lb. ground pork
• ½ Lb. ground beef

• 2 large Roma tomatoes (peeled and mashed)
• ½ yellow onion chopped
• ½ green pepper chopped (a New Orleans thing)
• 2 garlic cloves (sliced cross ways into tiny coins)
• ½ cup of dry red wine plus a few dashes (Chianti or Burgundy)
• 1 TBSP tomato paste (mixed in the wine)
• 1 – 10 oz. can tomato puree
• ½ cup veal stock (beef or chicken stock will also work)
• Fresh basil leaves
• Salt and Pepper
• 1 TBSP brown sugar
• 1 TBSP olive oil


First, I fry the prosciutto in olive oil and then remove. BTW, that frying pan is my grandmother’s and is at least 75 years old.  Love it!


I then add the meat. I do this to create a “fond”. This is done to glaze the meat and then add some sort of fluid to de-glaze the pan. This releases the meat flavor. I remove the meat.


I add the onions, garlic and green pepper and sauté.


I add the Roma tomatoes (peeled and mashed) and ½ cup of dry red wine with the 1 TBSP tomato paste mixed in on a high heat.


I let that reduce to a point when the wine has evaporated.


I then add the 1 – 10 oz. can tomato puree, brown sugar, salt and pepper and reduce the heat to low and cook that for 30 minutes covered. I add a little veal or beef stock to keep it moist.


Now I return all the meat and fresh basil. I always add fresh herbs last to make sure the flavor is not overcooked.  I increase the heat until it starts to bubble then cover and turn to low and cook 45 minutes covered.


When done it should look like this.


I serve on thin spaghetti and then add grated Parmesan cheese and serve.


Don’t that good???

Ragù with Cabbage and Rice



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This dish doesn’t have a fancy name, but it is a dish we cook often around here. The ingredients in this dish can be found in Russian Golubts rolls and other European cabbage rolls. This one has a great Ragù sauce.



½ lb. beef ground meat
½ lb. pork ground meat
½ head of cabbage
1 cup of rice (cooked)
½ onion – chopped
1 clove garlic -chopped
1 bunch fresh parsley – chopped
4 sprigs fresh oregano
1 carrot – grated
2 large Roma tomatoes – peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 dash of sugar
1 cup burgundy wine
½ cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

Before starting the dish, pre-cook the rice and let cool. Add 1 cup of rice to two cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 12 minutes.  Prepare the carrot using a potato peeler and peel and discard the outer skin, then peel the carrot into slivers and chop the slivers into 1 inch pieces or grate it with a grater.

In a 2 quart sauce pan sauté onions in olive oil then add the chopped tomatoes. Stir into a thick paste then add the garlic, wine, tomato paste, butter and a dash of sugar and stir into a paste. Turn off heat and cover.

In another sauce pan heat olive oil and add the beef and pork ground meat and stir a couple of minutes. Add the rice, carrots, parsley, oregano and stir, about three minutes. Turn off heat.


In a covered casserole pan add a little olive oil and place several cabbage leaves on the bottom, open face up. Spoon in the meat mixture.


Layer in more cabbage, and meat mixture.


Pour the tomato sauce over the dish and bake in a 350° oven for 1 hour.



Cannelloni (Crespelle)


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My second favorite Italian chef is Mary Ann Espositto. Like my first favorite Biba Caggiano, Mary Ann is very serious about her work. This recipe is influenced by Mary Ann.  Most of this recipe came from a book she wrote in 1991. I tweaked it but not by much. There is something about the “Old School” Italian cooks. My great Grandma was from a town near Naples, Italy and cooked big like this pretty much every night.  These people are serious about food and so am I.  Cooking is relaxing to me.

Typically, these dishes are made with pasta shells but I made this one using a crespelle (crêpe). It is pronounced [krehs-PEHL-leh]. This dish doesn’t look like much b/c it is covered in a besciamella sauce (Béchamel sauce), but I assure you, it is one of the most tasty dishes you will ever eat. And, it has a great cheese aroma.

The Crespelle


1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cup milk
1 TBSP melted butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 extra egg yolk, beaten
1 tsp. nutmeg
4 TBSP grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese

Mix all in a bowl. Pour ¼ cup in a 6 or 8 inch non-stick pan and cook for a minute or two on medium high heat. Flip, cook for 30 seconds and slide on a plate.

Besciamella Sauce


4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
1 ½ cup heated milk
½ cup onions chopped
1 cup shredded white Italian cheeses, your choice (I use the 5 Italian cheeses from the store.)

In a 2 quart pot melt butter and add the flour. Cook like a white roux for several minutes before it starts to turn brown. Add milk, ½ cup at a time until the sauce gets thick. Add onions, stir, add cheeses, melt, then remove from heat. It should be a thick silky sauce.

Meat Stuffing


1 Lb. ground meat (or veal)
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 garlic, chopped
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
4 TBSP dry red wine (Chianti preferred)
1 TBSP olive oil
1 cup fresh spinach, steamed (or frozen)
½ cup Besciamella Sauce
3 TBSP grated Fontina cheese


I browned the meat in olive oil in a hot wok b/c I wanted to get the meat cooked and browned and the moisture burned off quickly. I added rosemary and garlic. I moved the meat into a large bowl. I added 1 egg beaten and a cup of besciamella. I wanted the spinach like a pesto so I steamed it a long time, but you might want it more whole so you might want to just add frozen spinach. Ladle in the besciamella to bind the meat and combine.



Spoon the filling onto the Crespelle. Roll and place in a cooking pan.


When done filling the Cannelloni, ladle the Besciamella Sauce over the top and then grate Fontina on top of the sauce. When done, you will have almost 7 different cheeses in this dish.

Preheat oven 350⁰, cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook 35 to 40 minutes. Serve.

Can it be that good?

Someone say yes.

Turkey Tetrazzini


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The chicken version of this dish was named after Luisa Tetrazzini, an opera singer in about 1910 or something like that. The only reason this dish is not considered a casserole is b/c they didn’t make casseroles back then and it is served with sherry. Otherwise, this is a very tasty dish. The thing that makes this dish like über feastiality is the Béchamel cheese sauce.


Turkey Stock
1 lb. turkey thigh
1 celery
1 carrot
½ onion
1 TBSP pepper corns
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
2 cups water

Put all in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Strain the stock and shred the meat.

Béchamel Cheese Sauce
4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
½ cup chopped onions
1 cup milk
1 cup mixed Italian cheeses
1 cup turkey stock
Salt and pepper

Melt butter, add flour and mix. Fry the flour for several minutes then add onions and fry a few more minutes. Add milk a ¼ cup at a time and whisk thick. Add the cheese and melt and whisk. Salt and pepper. Add stock and whisk. Turn off heat and remove from heat.

8 oz. Linguine

Boil in water 9 minutes, then drain.


1 cup frozen peas
½ red bell pepper (chopped)
1 carrot (use a Julienne peeler and chop)
1 garlic (sliced)
1 cup mushrooms (sliced)

2 TBSP butter

Saute’ all in butter in a non–stick fry pan.

½ cup Italian bread crumbs
½ grated Parmesan cheese

Mix in a bowl.

4 TBSP sherry

In a covered non-stock 2 ½ quart Corning ware pan add pasta, veggies, meat, cheese sauce, topping mix and then add the sherry.

Preheat oven to 350° and cook 1 hour covered. Serve.

Roman Ragù


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This is one of my favorite dishes.  While it cooks slowly for 1 ½ hours, it takes all of 20 minutes to put together.  The only challenge is finding a store that sells pancetta.  I found one here and had them cut a ¼” thick slice.


I have to give props to my favorite Italian chef Biba Caggiano for this dish.  She has a restaurant in Sacramento (Biba’s).  I own several of her cookbooks and met her many times.  Until I went to her restaurant, I always thought Italian food was spaghetti and meatballs.  But Italian food has many facets from seafood to different kinds of pork like pancetta and prosciutto, simple cuts of beef like Ossobuco, thick sauces and light sauces, wild game, birds and northern Italian food including dishes like Jewish Hamim, a Kosher Jewish dish from northern Italy near Venice made with three kinds of beef, beans and fruit like prunes and apricots.  Name the ingredient and Italian food has a recipe for it.

When asking about Italian food it would be more exact to ask from which region are you speaking?  While I live in Cajun country, my recipe blog has more Italian recipes.  Cajun food is wonderful but is the food of one region.  It is a food largely influenced by France, Italy and Germany.  True Cajun foods are variations on a Roux gravy (fried flour and oil).  Fried Cajun seafood is nothing more than a Piccata.  When adding Creole food to the list of Cajun dishes then the menu begins to expand.  But, as Italian food does, almost all Cajun and Creole foods center around that wonderful fruit/berry called the tomato.  If you can master the tomato, you have a good dish.   It blends well with so many other ingredients.

The other berry that is a compliment to all food is the grape.  Grapes from regions in France, Germany, Italy, Napa Valley and the Central Coast of California are my preferred wines.  There is this one Italian wine the beats all; I call it “God’s Nectar”.  It is a dessert wine called Madiera.  This dessert wine is divinely fortified with brandy, almonds and lemon zest.  My favorite bottle is made at V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley and is now $50 a bottle.  I remember buying it for $15 a bottle – back in the day.

We can’t forget the all-important and healthy for your body – the olive.  What would Italian food and Cajun food for that matter be without olive oil?


Back to the Ragù:

Defined:  Ragù is a meat-based sauce commonly served with pasta.

Serves 2 -4


  • 1 – ¼” slice of pancetta (diced)
  • ½ Lb. of ground pork
  • ½ Lb. of ground beef


  • 3 large Roma tomatoes (chopped)
  • 2 garlic cloves (sliced cross ways into little dimes)
  • 1 cup of dry red wine (Chianti or Burgundy)
  • ½ cup veal stock (beef stock will do)
  • Fresh oregano leaves – 2 stalks (or a pinch of dried)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP olive oil


Note:  The French call this a Mirepoix, the Germans call this a Suppengrün and the Italians call it a Soffritto.  It’s the same thing.  These are complimentary vegetables that add sugary flavor to the dish.

  • 1 carrot (minced)
  • 1 celery stalk (minced)
  • ½ onion (minced)
  • I mince the Soffritto beforehand in a food processor.


I also use fresh oregano from my garden.


Cooking Steps:


Chop the pancetta.  In a 3 quart sauce pot add one TBSP olive oil and get hot.  Add the pancetta and sauté several minutes, and then add the pork and beef and brown for maybe five minutes.  Remove meat with a slotted spoon leaving the liquid and the oil.


Add the Soffritto and sauté five to eight minutes and then add the tomatoes and butter. Return the meat to the pot and add the wine.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the oregano leaves.  Mix.  Add a little beef broth if necessary just to make more gravy.  It doesn’t need much, maybe a quarter cup.

Bring to a slight boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover and cook for 1 ½ hours.


Serve over thin spaghetti with Parmesan cheese.

Make sure to place your spaghetti in boiling water and cook exactly 12 minutes.

Can it be that easy?

(Someone say yes!)

Picture of my kitties.  They both like pancetta BTW.