Beef Ragu Papardelle with Gremolata

February 17, 2010


Ragu Papardelle

Few things wrap themselves around pasta quite like the ragu. Three and a half hours of gentle simmering and that meat is ready to embrace every fold, nook and cranny of carbohydrate. You wait a long time for it to collapse, reduce and intensify and so a generous portion is essential as a reward. When you’ve finished devouring, it is perfectly possible that you may need a lie down and then, probably, a nap.


I managed to stick out three and a half hours cooking this ragu. At one point I thought it might need four, and in my delicate mental state owing purely to the anguish of delayed gratification I almost shed a little tear. I’m sure none of you lot would be so fragile and unreasonable in the face of a half cooked stew though, so don’t let that put you off.



While the persona of the ragu is like that of a mature and erudite gentleman, the gremolata zips in with the energy of a three year old given free reign with the sherbet dip dabs. The chipper mix of lemon zest, parsley and garlic is, for me, the perfect condiment, skipping around those wintry depths with perky high notes.

This is solid Sunday food. It’s indulgent, comforting and takes a long time to cook. It also gives you time to get into character with it; I pretended I was Keith Floyd in his heyday as I poured an entire bottle of gutsy red over some large pieces of meat and then settled down with a glass of my own.

Beef Ragu Papardelle with Gremolata

800g beef shin
2 large carrots, finely diced
2 large sticks celery, lightly peeled and finely diced
2 onions, finely diced
2 bay leaves, slightly torn
1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes
1 bottle red wine (not crap)
2 large cloves garlic, very finely chopped
A large sprig of thyme, leaves only
Pasta, to serve

For the gremolata

Handful parsley leaves, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons, finely chopped or grated (if you can only get waxed lemons, give them a good scrub under a hot tap)

Add some olive oil to a large, heavy based pan and add the onions, celery, carrots, bay leaves and garlic and sweat gently, with the lid on, for 10-15 minutes until they softened. Season the beef shin well all over and add it, plus everything else. Bring to the boil then turn down very low, put the lid on and simmer gently for 3-4 hours, until the sauce is thick and the meat is falling off the bone. Remove all the pieces of bone and discard. Flake up the meat if it hasn’t done so by itself and add back to the sauce. Adjust the seasoning and serve mixed through pasta of your choice (papardelle is good as it is quite big and robust).

For the gremolata, just mix everything together and sprinkle over your pasta.

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    Reply George@CulinaryTravels February 17, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    This looks perfect. A glass of gutsy red would be the only, and essential, accompaniment.

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    Reply Lizzie February 17, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    At the risk of sounding like Greg Wallace… PHWOOOOAR! I can just imagine the pasta and ragu slapping round yer chops 🙂 The gremolata addition is inspired.

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    Reply Jan February 17, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Woof woof and ding dong. That looks unctuous.

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    Reply Mr Noodles February 17, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    We could have really done with some gremolata to perk up the noodles we had at the “Taste of Beijing” !

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    Reply bellini valli February 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    I am really liking the combination here Helen.

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    Reply nina February 18, 2010 at 3:39 am

    I recently made a lamb ragu and it was thoroughly enjoyed by all. I think it is time I try a beef version. Cremolata is a must!!! I love the parpadelle that you served with the ragu!!!

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    Reply The Shed February 18, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Oh my word. Beautifully written and looks absolutely delicious. I have already printed the recipe in anticipation!

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    Reply BSG February 18, 2010 at 11:18 am

    Perfect for a weekend graze with friends – this is what its all about! And those pictures are beautiful. Inspiring stuff!

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    Reply Jonathan February 18, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Looks delicious. It seems that I have been completely overlooking gremolata.

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    Reply James February 18, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Ay what? A dish without pork?

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    Reply Greedy Diva February 18, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Wow. I’m going to Bologna to pig out on pasta this weekend, and your amazing looking ragu could not have put me more in the mood!

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    Reply KSalty February 18, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I want to dive into the second pic. Another brilliantly written piece (as always). K

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    Reply we are never full February 18, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    gremolata brightens a heavy ragu – nice touch! it also makes it super pretty.

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    Reply Helen February 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    George – Absolutely! And why not finish the bottle while you’re at it. I certainly would/did.

    Lizzie – At one point, the end of a papardelle whipped round and SLAPPED right on my cheek, depositing hot ragu all over my face.

    Jan – Hubba hubba

    Mr Noodles – Oh hell, we could have done with anything to perk up that poor sad excuse for a bowl of noodles.

    Bellini Valli – Cheers

    Nina – Lamb sounds interesting. Did you use minced lamb?

    The Shed – Fabulous. Please let me know what you think.

    BSG – ‘Graze’ – quite. Nowt quite like grazing on the weekend – all day, every day.

    Jonathan – Completely overlooking! You are going to find it addictive.

    James – Ha ha ha! Oh shit, I knew I left something out…

    Greedy Diva – Nor could the weather, more to the point. Perfect rainy day fodder.

    KSalty – Thank you. I have a vision of a mini you diving into a bowl of ragu. Ooh! I made a little poem.

    We are never full – It certainly does. A nifty little trick for those super rich dishes. I bet you two make a mean ragu n all.

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    Reply shayma February 18, 2010 at 9:14 pm

    epic ragu. the gremolata add such a gorgeous fragrance to it, i am sure. i would also have been weeping had i been in your place. 3 hours is a lot 4, well just unacceptable! really, an epic ragu. x shayma

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    Reply gastrogeek February 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Another stunner of a dish – I know what I’ll be making this Sunday! Have never tried it with gremolata, what a brilliant idea. And loving that analogy of the old gent and the nipper – genius!

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    Reply Becky February 19, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Oh , looks so good , love winter for all the slow cooking letting the pot do all the work . Lush

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    Reply Trissa February 19, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Just found your blog by accident and thought I would say Hello and let you know I am loving it! Beautiful beautiful pictures and recipes!

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    Reply Dan (Essex Eating) February 19, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    I Love Ragu – and that is a cracking example… rich and dark looking. Superb.

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    Reply joey February 20, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Though not a fan of mince based meat sauces (which are popular over here), I LOVE this type of sauce that uses a good hunk of shin (or other slow cooking cuts) instead! This looks awesome! I use leftover osso buco sometimes for a similar pasta dish — and yes, 100% agree, papardelle is the best pasta noodle for it!

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    Reply Helen February 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Shayma – Thanks! Yes I think I would have openly wept had it needed four.

    Gastrogeek – Thank you my dear 🙂

    Becky – yeah exactly! Another reason why it’s perfect for a Sunday – particularly if you are feeling lazy.

    Trissa – Hello to you too and thank you.

    Dan – Cheers ears. It was indeed a dark and deep ragu. Magical powers stirred within.

    Joey – Yeah the texture of mince can just be a bit meh sometimes I agree. Much better to get a hunk for that flaky texture plus then you also get the added bonus of the marrow from the bones.

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    Reply The Graphic Foodie February 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Perfect sauce / pasta combination. Brilliant idea re. the gremolata to lift the heaviness of the sauce. Delicious!

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    Reply Jeanne @ CookSister! February 27, 2010 at 12:25 am

    OMG Helen that looks divine! I love ragu, and I love the combination of the ragu with the gremolata. Inspired!

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    Reply Joanne March 7, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    This dish is making my stomach growl! AND I just had lunch. I love the idea of having gremolata with the ragu…delicious.

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    Reply Helen March 7, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    The Graphic Foodie – That gremolata is amazing stuff isn’t it? I have to stop myself going overboard with it to be honest.

    Jeanne – Thanks!

    Joanne – Nothing like a ragu to get that stomach growling…doesn’t matter how full you are.

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    Reply Gabe May 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    looks really good but kind of a newbie at cooking. Recipe doesnt state when to add wine, tomatoes and what temperature to put in oven for. 🙁

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    Reply Helen May 9, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Hi Gabe – This is the sentence you are looking for “Season the beef shin well all over and add it, plus everything else.” ‘Everything else obviously includes wine and tomatoes. The dish is cooked on the hob; it doesn’t go in the oven.

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    Reply Grace November 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Hi Helen, I was thinking of making this for a group of about 6 people; do you think this recipe would make enough, or should I scale it up? Thanks!

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      Reply Helen November 5, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Erm, yes I should think so as the sauce goes quite a long way.

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    Reply Grace November 26, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Hi Helen, in the end I, er, beefed it up (sorry) to 1kg for 8 people and we had enough for about 9 decent portions. It was so rich, satisfying and delicious. The gremolata is an absolute must – really lifts the dish to a whole other level. Thanks!!

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      Reply Helen November 26, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      Awww I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! (pun forgiven…)

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    Reply Hannah January 4, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Hi Helen, I’d love to make this, it sounds incredible! Should the beef shin have a bone in, and if so is the 800g weight including the bone? Or would pieces of been shin rather than a joint work well? Looking forward to reading and trying many more of your recipes, including the Mexican pork cheeks…..yum!

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      Reply Helen January 4, 2014 at 11:07 am

      Hi Hannah, yeah the pieces of beef shin I used came in sort of slices and they have a piece of bone in the centre of each, so the weight includes bone. Let me now how you get on!

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    Reply Hannah January 6, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks Helen! Will see how I get on, the beef shin I have seen was boneless I think but I think the bone will add flavour, will keep an eye out for it

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