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  • Sugo di Carne (Four-Hour Meat Sauce)

    Sugo di Carne (Four-Hour Meat Sauce)

    Every Saturday, my mother would make meat sauce, and every Sunday, she would make homemade pasta. No matter what. This full-bodied sauce cooks long and slow—long enough that there is no evidence of vegetables or tomatoes in the final result, just a thick, rich, velvety sauce of meat essence. I like to spoon the thick sugo over polenta, but I really love it with pasta. Toss it with any dry pasta—think spaghetti, tagliatelle, penne. Any pasta, that is, except for angel hair or other delicate pasta. Even better: Cook the pasta right in the sauce: Quickly cook rigatoni in a large pot of water for about half the time indicated on the package. Drain and then add to the meat sauce in a large pot. Add a splash or two of the pasta cooking water and simmer until the pasta is al dente (firm with no resistance).

    Servings & Time

    • Servings 4 servings, plus leftover sauce
    • Prep 30 minutes
    • Cook 4½ hours


    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 red onions, finely chopped
    • 2 ribs celery, finely chopped
    • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
    • 1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
    • 1 pound lean ground beef
    • 1 cup dry white wine
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 cup canned peeled whole tomatoes with juice (San Marzano is best)
    • Chili flakes
    • 1 pound fresh or dried pasta
    • Parmesan cheese, for grating (optional)


    Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions, celery, carrot, and parsley. Cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until tender, about 10 minutes.

    As the vegetables cook slowly, they will perfume the kitchen; this is the moment to add the meat. Turn up the flame and stir in the beef, incorporating it well into the vegetables. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally and breaking up the beef with the wooden spoon, until the meat has released its water and begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the fat content of the beef.

    Reduce the flame, add the wine, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook at a very low simmer for 30 minutes, until the meat starts to stick to the bottom of the pot. Discard any excess fat, if you wish.

    While the meat is cooking, puree the tomatoes. Place a food mill over a large bowl and pour in the tomatoes and ½ cup water.

    Grind the tomatoes, letting the puree fall into the bowl.

    Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

    Add the tomato puree and about ¼ cup water to the sauce. Cover the pot and cook at a bare simmer over a medium flame, stirring every once and a while, for 3 hours more. The sauce is done when it is dense and the liquid is well reduced; it should be well combined and thick, but not dry. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be cooled, transferred to a container, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for a couple of weeks.

    To serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until just short of al dente. Warm about a cup of the sugo in a large skillet. You don’t need to drain the pasta in a colander—just use a spider or large slotted spoon to transfer the pasta from the water to the sauce, with water still clinging to the pasta. Heat over medium-low heat, tossing the pasta gently, and let it finish cooking in the sauce. Spoon into warmed serving plates and top with grated Parmesan, if you like.

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