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Beef Ragu with Rigatoni (And Comeback Kitchen Chatter)

Last night on Comeback Kitchen...Liver again!!! Oh yeah... lets make it Italian. Excuse my language, but F that. My liver karma is bad. Like back to back liver challenges. I quit. Done. Take my spot. For someone that has never cooked liver before... I am sure rolling in the stuff. Not literally of course. No joke, the second Valerie pulled that liver and onions plate, I knew it was going to be mine. Surely not, right? Gosh darn it, liver. For the love of all things culinary. NO. MORE. LIVER.

No joke, I threw up my number and pump faked a walk off. Lets be honest though, I can't quit when I am this close to win. So, I sucked it up and hatched a plan to cook my "Italian" liver and onions. Now before we got any further... this is NOT A LIVER AND ONIONS PASTA DISH. I made a beef ragu (which you could totally use lamb for too, since I used lamb in my meatballs for the show) with a caramelized onion red sauce. So if you're hoping for liver you're SOL. But if you are looking for a flavorful slow cooked pasta dish, then I totally have you covered. (And no, I am not pregnant if the above photo of me has you questioning it. I am Catholic, but I am done with the whole baby making thing.)

I had so much trouble with this Instagram video. I am on Instagram a lot, and I am completely familiar with stories. But we do not have iPhones. We have Samsung, Android phones. Keeping this in mind, some of the basic user interface is a little bit different than what I am used to. I kept getting tripped up on the silliest stuff when it came to using the phone. Truthfully, I wasn't that nervous with my Instagram Story. I was a bit hesitant about my dish however. Although Tyler Florence may have dubbed me #LiverQuen and said he wanted to be Insta friends with me, he doesn't follow me on Instagram yet, and I have yet to become the queen of liver. haha. Since I was so-so on my dish, I knew I had to NAIL that presentation. For real. And nail it I did.

I excelled at the challenge and moved on to the next round! If you have watched the show, you know what happens. If you have not, you will have to see my poke post to see if I make it on to Food Network Star or if this is the end of the road for me. Nanny nanny boo boo. Back to the food...

This is the slow cooker dreaminess you've been drooling over. So instead of liver and lamb pasta, you get this. I promise, this is the better alternative. As mentioned above, lamb would also be great in this. I love lamb ragu. But I actually been turning my house into a food truck once a week and slinging food from it. So since I was making about 50 of these, I decided that not everyone may want lamb, and I opted for beef instead. If you wanted to use lamb, you would just cube up some lamb leg and substitute it for the beef. :) Easy peasy, pasta squeezey? I don't think that is a real thing though. Anyway... The sauce has TONS of built in flavor with aromatics such as caramelized onions, garlic, carrots and celery. And I wrapped some fresh garden herbs into some cheese cloth and steeped them in the sauce for hours. There is something about slow cooked sauces that are just so perfect. Everything cooks together into one harmonious flavor, while at the same time maintaining the depth of flavors from all the original ingredients. The slow cooked beef is fall apart tender, while it cooks for hours in the aromatic tomato based sauce. Can I get a yum up in here? Yum! Louder friends? YUM! Sweet, acidic, savory and oh so good. Plus, who doesn't just love a flavorful carby pasta dish? Top it off with light and fluffy ricotta, and you have yourself a winner!

I used rigatoni noodles. Pappardelle noddles would also be a great fit for this dish. It is a hearty pasta, all that meat yo. So you probably want to stick with a non wimpy noodle. As long as you pick something with some subsistence, you will be good to go. I am not going to get into the noodles of it all for serving sizes, since it really depends on how heavily you want to coat them, and how many people you want to feed. I made a big batch of this (since I was cooking for 50). I was hoping to freeze some (another plus... freezes and reheats great) for future use, but I got some last minute orders and opted for cash money instead. The recipe below makes enough for 4-5 to eat, freeze and serve 4-5 again. So get out your Dutch oven or crock pot and simmer away for some pasta that will blow your mind.


2-3 lbs stew meat, beef (or lam leg, cubed into stew meat sized cubes)

flour, to dust

salt and pepper, to dust

4-6 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 yellow onion

8-10 garlic cloves

1 1/2 cups red wine, divided (dry wine like a Merlot or a Chianti)

2 large carrots (about 1 1/2 cups when small diced)

4-5 celery stalks (about 1- 1/2 cups when small diced)

28 oz canned crushed tomatoes (about 3-4 cups)

1 cup of beef broth

fresh thyme (6-7 "branches")

fresh rosemary (2-4 "branches)

fresh sage (4-5 leaves)

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp pepper

1- 2 tsp red pepper flaeks

(You can add more salt, black pepper and red pepper after it has cooked, but allow the sauce to cook for 3-5 hours before determining if you need more as the flavors will intensify over time.)

Also, I almost never use a crock pot, I am a huge advocate for my Dutch ovens. Yes, ovens. I have 3 lodge Dutch Ovens. Haha, The benefit to the Dutch oven is that you can put it on the stove top for direct heat and a sear on your food, then reduce it down to slow cook on the stove top or in the oven. When I do pulled pork, I sear my meat in the Dutch oven on the stove top, and then I put it in my oven at 275 for 6-8 hours. I leave the house, and I go on with my life, just as one would do with a crock pot. If you don't have a Dutch oven, first, go get one. But also a crock pot will work just fine. :) You can skip searing the meat on direct heat if you want. However, I would probably grab a pan and do it. :)

1. Generously salt and pepper your cubed beef. Then take roughly 1/4 cup of flour and give it a good dusting.

2. Heat up a few tbsp olive oil in your Dutch oven.

3. Add the meat to the pan and sear till browned (8-10 minutes). You don't need to worry about cooking the meat all the way, as it will cook in the sauce.

4. When the meat is browned, remove it for the pot with a slotted spoon, leaving all the stuck on bits in the pan.

5. Deglaze the pan with a tbsp or two of wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan enough to get all of the stuck on beef yuminess off of the bottom. You're gonna want that flavor.

6. Thinly slice your onions so that they are in thin strips/ribbons and add them to the Dutch oven along with another tbsp or two of olive oil.

7. If things ever stick to the bottom of your pan, just keep adding a few drop of wine. :)

8. Cook the onions until they are browned and translucent (10-15 minutes).

9. Add garlic and cook until it is browned as well.

10. While the onions and garlic are cooking, chop up your carrots and your celery.

11. Add them to the pot and stir/cook for another 8-10 minutes.

12. Add the canned crushed tomatoes, beef broth and remaining red wine and stir.

13. Add the beef back into the Dutch Oven.

14. As I mentioned above, I used cheese cloth to bundle up my herbs. If you do not have cheese cloth, this just won't work for you. Most grocery stores have it and I would highly recommend having some on hand. Buuuut... if you don't you can remove the leaves from the stems and very finely chop them before adding them to the sauce. (Rosemary is very course, so you will want to chop it well.)

If you ARE using cheese cloth, simply rinse your herbs and tie them off into a little bundle before adding them to the sauce. :)

15. Add your cheese cloth wrapped herbs back into the sauce pot, and press them down so that they are submerged.

16. Now we wait. Reduce the heat and cover your pot. I cooked my sauce for a good six hours. But I have read some recipes where people do it for 2-3 hours. The longer, the better. (That's what she said. Sorry, wife of a fighter pilot here. So the fighter humor will make some cameos from time to time. If I ever type 6-9 of anything, that is also the origin). However long you are cooking, it needs to be long enough for the beef to become tender enough to shred with a fork. I would not cook it any less than 3 hours. personally. And if you pull it and the beef doesn't shred, put it back in. Its all about low and slow.

I kept one Dutch oven on my stove top at a very low temp, stirring it occasionally. And I put the other two into my oven at 275 degrees. The results were basically eh same. Tender, pull apart beef.

17. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out all of the beef chunks. Shred them with a fork and return them to the pot for another 10-30 minutes so that the meat is well coated. (10 minutes is totally fine, I just left mine in for 30 since I had other stuff going on haha.)

18. In a large bowl add pasta (rigatoni, pappardelle) and a generous amount of sauce and toss together. Transfer to serving bowls.



And don't forget to stay up to date with my Food Network Life on my blog, my social media and on the Food Network of course. :)

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