Ragu and blue cheese baked pasta

Unlike most of the recipes I post here, this one is not a quick and easy recipe to make on a work night. In fact, for a pasta bake this takes quite a lot of time and effort.

ideally, this should be made if you fancy a change from a roast dinner on a Sunday and have a few hours to spare.

However, the resulting flavour is well worth the effort. This the ultimate comfort food.

The original recipe calls for three types of meat (pork shoulder, ox cheek and rose veal), which I found a bit excessive, so I just used the pork shoulder and some stewing beef (as I couldn’t get ox cheek) to keep the cost down. I also replaced speck for pancetta, which is much easier to find.

The original recipe also serves 10-12 people, so I halved it. The below recipe therefore served 5-6 people.

Ragu and blue cheese baked pasta
Ragu and blue cheese baked pasta

250g macaroni or rigatoni (I used gluten free macaroni)
50g parmesan, grated

For the ragù
250g British ox cheek, cut into 2cm cubes (or see tips)
250g British rose veal shin, cut into 2cm slices as for osso buco (ask your butcher, or see tips)
250g British free-range boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2cm slices (or see tips)
25ml rapeseed oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
quarter tsp five-spice powder
1 celery sticks, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
20g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water to cover, then drained and chopped (reserve the soaking liquid)
250ml whole milk

For the tomato sauce
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
50g pancetta, finely diced
100g shallots, sliced
1 garlic cloves, very finely sliced
125ml dry white wine
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh basil sprigs
1 tsp caster sugar

For the cheese sauce
125g mascarpone or ricotta
70ml double cream
50g gorgonzola dolce, broken into small chunks
1 large free-range egg yolks

1. First, take the meat for the ragù out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the rapeseed oil in a large, flameproof casserole. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the meat in batches (don’t overcrowd the dish) and fry over a medium-high heat, turning once, until browned all over. Transfer the browned meat to a plate, leaving the pan on the hob but reducing the heat to medium.
2. Heat the oven to 120°C/fan100°C/gas ½. Add the onions, five-spice powder, celery, carrot and porcini to the pot and cook for 10 minutes, stirring, until softened and golden.
3. Return all the meat to the casserole, pour in the milk and add the porcini soaking liquid. Bring to a simmer, then cover with a lid and cook in the oven for 3-4 hours until the meat is tender and falling apart.
4. About an hour before the end of the meat cooking time, make the tomato sauce. Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a large pan, then fry the speck/pancetta over a medium-high heat until it begins to crisp. Add the shallots and cook for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the white wine and bubble to reduce by half, then add the tomatoes, herbs and sugar. Season, then simmer very gently for 30 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half.
5. When the meat is tender, remove the casserole from the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Lift the meat out of the liquid into a bowl, using tongs or a slotted spoon, then put the casserole on the hob and simmer until the liquid has almost completely evaporated.
6. Remove and discard the bones from the cooked veal. Return all the meat to the casserole and shred it using 2 forks. Pour over the tomato sauce, then simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (see tips).
7. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a ladleful of the cooking liquid. Meanwhile, make the cheese sauce by mixing all the ingredients with a balloon whisk in a large bowl until almost smooth.
8. To assemble, mix the warm pasta with the tomato ragù, adding some of the reserved water if the mixture is too thick. Transfer to a 2.5 litre ovenproof dish, then spoon over the cheese sauce and sprinkle with the parmesan. Cook under a hot grill for 5 minutes or until the top is browned and glazed, then serve.

TIPS:

  • The bulk of the work can be done in advance. Make the meat and tomato filling up to the end of step 6, then cool and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost fully before reheating, then continue from step 7 but cook in the oven at 180°C/fan160°C/gas 4 for 30 minutes instead of grilling in step 8.
  • If not freezing, the filling will benefit from a night or two in the fridge, covered, to allow the flavours to mingle.
  • Don’t be alarmed by the appearance of the meat mixture. The milk solids will separate out, which doesn’t look very appealing but gives the dish a fantastic flavour.