Slow cooked beef ragù is one of our favorite comfort foods of all time. It’s hard to beat a wonderfully rich and flavorful ragù over your favorite pasta! This Red Wine Slow Braised Italian Beef Ragù is an easy recipe and is the perfect dish for any time of the year, but it is especially amazing during fall and winter when you need something warm and cozy.
We are big fans of all the variations of ragù, and have a couple delicious versions available on our blog. Check out one of our favorite recipes for Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Ragù. Or if you are looking for a vegetarian ragù, you will love our Mushroom Ragù with Parmesan Polenta.
What makes Italian Ragù so special?
Ragù is an Italian meat-based sauce that is generally accepted as deriving from the French ragout, which was and is a similar meat sauce and was probably introduced to North-Central Italy in the 1700s. There are arguments that the Italian ragù originated in some form all the way back to the ancient Romans. Regardless, the Italian form of ragù is a rich and flavorful full-bodied meat sauce that varies widely across the country, and indeed the world, today.
Generally speaking, a ragù is an Italian slow-braised meat-based sauce, and is usually not heavy on tomatoes.
Types of Ragù in Italy
Probably the most famous of all Italian ragù recipes is Bolognese sauce. It is so famous that many people actually refer to any meat sauce as a “Bolognese,” which is quite incorrect. Bolognese is a particular type of ragù sauce from Bologna in Emilia Romagna, which can be considered the gastronomic capital of Italy and one of a few places in the world that is revered for its famous types of food.
Bolognese is a slow-cooked sauce based on beef, and often includes veal and pork. The sauce is served with tagliatelle in Bologna or used in their famous lasagne verde or with tortellini.
Other ragù sauces in Italy include a famous version in Napoli (Naples) where larger cuts of the meat are braised. Another popular sauce is the famous Tuscan Wild Boar Ragù (ragù di cinghiale), which is one of our favorite versions found around the Italian region of Tuscany.
Most traditional beef ragu sauces will start with sofrito (known as a mirepoix in French cuisine), which consists of diced onion, carrot and celery. As with many foods in Italy, the north of the country has a different way of making this dish and a different flavor profile than the south, but they are all delicious.
More Irresistible Pasta Sauces
For more savory pasta sauces, make our Baked Rigatoni with Tomato Herb Meat Sauce or our Marinara Sauce from Scratch. If you are in the mood for a creamy pasta sauce, you will love our Parmesan Sage Cream Sauce, Creamy Pesto Sauce, or Lemon Garlic Cream Sauce.
- What makes Italian Ragù so special?
- Types of Ragù in Italy
- More Irresistible Pasta Sauces
- How to Make Red Wine Slow Braised Italian Beef Ragù
- Step-by-Step Instructions
- Top tips
- What to make with Beef Ragù
- Want to level up this ragù?
- What wines pair with Beef Ragù?
- Looking for more Italian recipes?
- Red Wine Slow Braised Italian Beef Ragù
- Food safety
This Red Wine Slow Braised Italian Beef Ragù is made with the following ingredients:
- Beef: Chuck, Sirloin, Short Rib (can be overly fatty, so trim them accordingly), beef shoulder, shank, or bottom round is best for this recipe. We like flavorful cuts that are usually inexpensive, but have a good fat content. Overly lean cuts tend to dry out and don’t work as well for a ragù like this.
- Pancetta: Pancetta (similar to bacon but not smoked) is a cured meat from the belly of a pig. This will greatly deepen the flavor of the dish without adding smokiness that bacon would add.
- Olive Oil: Used for browning the meat and sauteing vegetables.
- Sofrito: A combination of diced carrots, onion, and celery.
- Fennel: We add a fennel bulb to our sofrito for additional flavor in this recipe.
- Tomato puree: In Italy this is called passata, and we recommend trying to find Italian brands for the best flavor profile in this recipe.
- Dry red wine: We love the flavor of red wine added and cooked over a long period of time in this Italian Beef Ragù recipe. We recommend a Chianti Classico.
- Beef stock: Along with the wine, beef stock will add liquid body to the ragù. Use a low sodium, or zero sodium option to control the salt in the recipe.
- Salt & Pepper
- Bay leaves: Dried bay leaves add exceptional, yet subtle flavor in a dish such as this and other beef stew recipes.
- Fennel seeds: Fennel seeds complement the flavor of bay leaves as well as beef. We toast them in a dry pan first for even more flavor.
- Oregano: Fresh oregano adds to the Italian flavor profile of this ragù.
- Basil: We use fresh sweet basil in this recipe. We don’t recommend using dry spices in place of the fresh herbs in this recipe.
- Sugar: A touch of sugar will help balance the acidity in the dish if needed.
- Balsamic Vinegar: This is our secret ingredient that rounds out the ragù so perfectly. Make sure it is a true Italian Balsamic Vinegar from Italy for the best flavor.
See recipe card below for the full recipe with quantities.
Here are a few common substitutions for the ingredients in this recipe:
- Beef: You can substitute pork, lamb, or veal (or a combination) for the beef and the dish will be delicious as well.
- Pancetta: You can use bacon instead here if you cannot find pancetta. The bacon will add a touch of smokiness to the finish dish, but it won’t ruin anything.
- Red wine: You can substitute white wine in this dish if you wish. There are many beautiful versions of ragù that use white wine. Just make sure it is a dry white wine like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc.
- Fennel: We wouldn’t leave this out, but it’s not always the easiest vegetable to find in some places. If you can’t find it, there is no need to replace it with a substitution, simply omit it from the recipe.
Beef Stock: You can substitute vegetable stock for the beef stock, but we wouldn’t recommend using chicken stock in this recipe unless you don’t have the other options.
How to Make Red Wine Slow Braised Italian Beef Ragù
This Italian Beef Ragù is quite simple to prepare, but it does take a bit of time to cook. It is perfect to prepare on the weekend to enjoy throughout the week, or even freeze for later! The dish slowly cooks for a few hours and then it is best if it sits for 20-30 minutes before serving so the flavors can come together. Actually, the ragù is even better the next day so letting it sit really goes a long way in developing the flavor profile.
Once the meat and vegetables are chopped and the other ingredients are prepared, this ragù is a snap to make.
There really isn’t any other special equipment you’ll need for this dish! You may already have everything you need at home. But here are a few items we recommend:
- A large oven-proof dish (a Dutch oven is perfect here like THIS one).
- A wooden spoon, preferably a flat-ended one - for scraping when deglazing (we like the one in THIS set).
- A sheet tray with a wire rack (or a contraption that works like it) for drying the beef prior to cooking.
This recipe for Italian Beef Ragù is fairly easy to make, just follow these steps:
Step 1: Brown the pancetta and beef
- This is where you can get some color on the beef and allow the pancetta to add its specialness to the dish, which will give a tremendous depth of flavor in the finished ragù. We remove the beef and pancetta after browning to prepare the vegetables in the same Dutch oven.
Step 2: Sauté the vegetables
- Another flavor-enhancing step, the vegetables (sofrito) will get a bit more flavor cooked in the rendered fat from the beef and pancetta with a touch of olive oil.
Hint: For the sofrito, you want (roughly) equal amounts of onion, carrot, celery, and fennel once diced. It is easiest to start with a medium onion, then chop the carrots, etc. until you have about the same amount as the onion.
Step 3: Deglaze and combine the ingredients
- Once the vegetables are done, we add about a half cup of red wine to deglaze and scrape the fond (brown bits) from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, then add the remaining red wine. The meat can be added back as well as the rest of the ingredients used in the ragù at this point. Once it is starting to boil, it can go into the oven
Step 4: Slow cooking in the oven
- Cover the Dutch oven and place the entire pot in the oven at a low temperature of 315°F for 3 hours. Once it comes out of the oven, add a little balsamic vinegar, stir and let sit for 20-30 minutes for flavors to meld while you cook pasta or polenta.
Step 5: Serve over your favorite pasta or polenta!
- The only thing left to do at this point is serve the ragù and enjoy! Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, and fresh basil if desired.
There are, as you can imagine, endless variations you can incorporate into this Italian beef ragu recipe. Try some of these variations out:
- Use a different protein: Such as the ones mentioned above in “Substitutions” or a combination of several proteins. Pork, veal or lamb are great options to use in this recipe.
- Make it spicy: Add some crushed red pepper or Calabrian chile peppers to spice it up while keeping it Italian.
- Make it white: Omit the tomatoes, use pork and/or veal without beef and use white wine to make this into a white ragù!
- Keep the meat intact: You can just braise the beef whole and break it up in larger chunks or shred it at the end if desired. This style emphasizes the meat more.
How to store leftovers in the fridge:
Leftovers should be cooled in the fridge (uncovered at first). Once cool, cover and keep refrigerated until ready to reheat. Enjoy within 5 days.
Make ahead and freeze:
You can also just make a bunch with the intent on freezing it in the first place. Just portion out amounts that make sense to your situation, cool down in the fridge (see above) and then seal and freeze. It will be great for up to 6 months. Simply defrost, reheat and enjoy!
How to reheat:
Either from refrigerated or frozen, reheat the ragù in a saucepan slowly until it is piping hot. This can be done while you make your pasta or polenta.
- This is a great recipe for inexpensive cuts of beef that are generally flavorful, but tough unless cooked for a long time like we do here. However, using inexpensive doesn’t mean inferior in this case. On the other hand, poor quality tomato puree, balsamic vinegar or other ingredients can turn a great dish into something that isn’t so great in the end. As with any recipe, the best raw ingredients will produce the best finished product!
- Don’t skip the meat-drying process. It will make a big difference when browning the beef if the beef has been dried per the instructions below.
Ragù too dry? If your ragù seems to be drying out in the oven, just add a little more beef stock to keep it from drying out completely.
Ragù too acidic? If you find that your dish seems too acidic, this is almost always caused by using very acidic tomato puree. Adding a teaspoon of sugar usually helps. If it doesn’t help enough, adding a touch (¼ cup) of milk along with the sugar can help correct this problem. Then purchase an Italian brand of tomato passata for the next batch.
What to make with Beef Ragù
This delicious meaty ragù sauce is absolutely wonderful served with pasta! But there are several other ways that you can use this sauce for a variety of meals:
- Serve it over creamy polenta. Try out this version of Smoked Gouda and Porcini Mushroom Polenta.
- Ragù makes a great sauce option for lasagna, cannelloni, stuffed shells, or other stuffed or baked pasta dishes.
- Stuffed peppers are another great way to use up some of this rich sauce.
- For a fun Italian twist on a cottage pie or shepherd’s pie, use the ragù as the meat layer with additional veggies and mashed potatoes.
Want to level up this ragù?
If you want to take this ragù to a whole new level, try it with homemade pasta or gnocchi! Follow our recipes for Homemade Pasta and Potato Herb Gnocchi for a truly unique experience! And don’t worry, homemade pasta and gnocchi isn’t difficult to make, and is absolutely worth it! This is also spectacular over a creamy polenta, so feel free to skip
What wines pair with Beef Ragù?
Medium-bodied dry red wines are our choice to pair with this Italian Beef Ragù. We tend to lean towards Italian red wines such as Chianti Classico, Barolo, or Brunello for this recipe. But since it is a rich and flavorful beef sauce, you can also opt for a cabernet sauvignon, syrah or zinfandel. Cheers!
Looking for more Italian recipes?
Bolognese is a famous beef ragù from Bologna! There are countless versions of ragù but only one Bolognese version, even though the term is loosely used here in the United States to describe any Italian meat sauce it seems! But ‘Bolognese’ means from Bologna and should be a very specific version of ragù.
Generally, a base of sofrito (onion, carrot, celery) with meat, which can be nearly any type of meat, and a little tomato. In Italy, the most common meats will be the most commonly and traditionally raised or hunted meats of the region. Then there is a liquid that can range from water to stock or wine, or some combination of these.
When talking about beef, the best cuts are the ones that can stand up to long cooking times, but are also flavorful. Thankfully this almost always means that you can use a cheap cut of meat for this recipe. We like to use the following cuts most often: Chuck, Sirloin, Short Rib (can be overly fatty, so trim them accordingly), Shoulder, Shank, Bottom round.
In terms of just pasta, you can use a wide variety of shapes. Rigatoni, lumaconi, large “elbows,” and penne, along with their similarly shaped cousins are great with ragù because the sauce can find its way into the tube-shaped pasta. Ragù alla Bolognese - the most famous of all ragù - is served with tagliatelle, not spaghetti or anything else. But ragù served with other wide noodles is often found in Italy so pappardelle pasta, fettuccine and the like are all perfect to use.
Looking for other pasta recipes? Try these:
These are our favorite cocktails to serve with this ragù recipe:
Red Wine Slow Braised Italian Beef Ragù
- 1 Dutch oven
- 1 wooden spoon
- 1 sheet tray with wire rack
- 2 lbs. Beef chuck, sirloin, or shoulder, cut into ½” cubes
- 1 tablespoon whole fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 ounces Pancetta finely chopped
- 1 medium onion small dice
- 3 small carrots small dice
- 6 medium celery stalks small dice
- ½ fennel bulb small dice
- ½ bottle dry red wine such as a Chianti Classico
- 16 ounces unsalted beef stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 24 ounces tomato purèe
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoon black pepper ground
- 2 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves chopped
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon sugar optional
- 2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 315°F
- Spread the diced beef on a rack over a sheet tray. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to dry while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- In a small dry pan over medium heat, add the fennel seeds and toast, stirring often, on the stovetop until they become fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Remove the fennel seeds to a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the pancetta. Once the pancetta starts to render some of its fat (about a minute) add half the beef and brown, then remove the browned beef with a slotted spoon to a bowl and brown the rest of the beef and remove to the same bowl.
- In the same Dutch oven, add the vegetables and cook over medium heat until they start to get some color, about 4-5 minutes. If necessary, add a little olive oil while sautéing the vegetables.
- Once the vegetables are done, add about a half cup of the dry red wine and deglaze the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom well to dislodge the browned bits (fond). Once deglazed, add the rest of the wine, then add the beef and pancetta and the remaining ingredients except for the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Bring the ragù to a light boil, stir, cover and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours. Check to make sure there isn’t too much evaporation at the 60 minute and 120 minute mark, and add more if necessary.
- After 3 hours, remove from the oven and add the balsamic vinegar. Taste to see if the ragù needs sugar to counteract any excess acidity (usually this is not necessary). Add more kosher salt if needed to taste. Let the ragù rest, covered, for at least 20 minutes, then serve over your favorite pasta or polenta!
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food that previously touched raw meat.
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Always use separate cutting boards for raw meat or thoroughly clean and sanitize the cutting board before using again
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove