This traditional Italian beef ragu is amped up with onions and made incredibly easy in a slow cooker. Perfect for Sunday dinner!
Growing up, I don’t remember having any other type of pasta sauce other than the traditional red sauce that my grandma used to make. It was mostly a marinara; she would often simmer it with spare ribs for flavor, so little bits of pork would often be mixed in, but she never made a thick meat sauce. Once I got older and started eating Italian food at restaurants, I discovered alfredo, vodka sauce, and my absolute favorite – my father-in-law’s meat sauce.
The first time I actually tried a true ragu (a super thick meat sauce with only a tiny bit of tomato paste or sauce) was a few month ago when my father-in-law tried a new recipe. It was absolutely delicious and a great change of pace, so when I came across this recipe for Pasta Genovese in Cook’s Country that featured a beef and onion ragu and it was made in a slow cooker, I immediately put it on the menu for Sunday dinner.
Pasta Genovese is a signature dish in Naples, Italy, and different from a traditional beef ragu in that it uses a lot of onions to flavor the sauce. There are two keys to keeping the onions from overpowering the final dish – the first is pre-cooking them to draw out some of the moisture, and then letting them to a very long, low roast in the slow cooker, which almost caramelizes them.
In additional to the onions, this ragu also includes a vegetable paste with salami and pancetta (mmmm) for even more amazing flavor. The result is a beefy, slightly sweet sauce with a hint of tomato and a lot of seasoning. It went perfectly with the rigatoni and a lot of Romano cheese!
Serving a new type of sauce to a family of Italians can be hit or miss (everyone has their old favorites!), but this was incredibly well-received at dinner… everyone adored it and thought it was a great change of pace. I loved that I could throw all of this in the slow cooker the night before and not have to make a mess of the kitchen on Sunday morning. Score!
If you like Italian food and want to try a different type of sauce, give this Pasta Genovese a try!
Sprinkle the beef with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and place in the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker.
Pulse the onions in a food processor until finely minced, about 15 pulses, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer the onions to a large bowl and stir in ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and microwave for 5 minutes. Drain onions in a fine-mesh strainer, pressing with a rubber spatula to extract excess liquid. Return the drained onions to the now-empty bowl.
Process the pancetta, salami, carrot and celery in the now-empty food processor until ground to a paste, about 45 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Transfer the pancetta mixture to the bowl with the onions. Stir the wine, water, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, tomato paste, oregano, ¾ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper into the onion mixture until thoroughly combined.
Pour the onion mixture over the beef in the slow cooker, covering the beef with the mixture. Cover and cook until the beef is fully tender, 8 to 9 hours on low (or 5 to 6 hours on high).
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoons of salt and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water, then drain pasta.
Using a potato masher, mash the meat until coarsely shredded into bite-size pieces. Stir in the Romano cheese and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Transfer the pasta to the slow cooker and stir to combine with the sauce. If too thick, thin the sauce with the reserved cooking water as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.