Sicilian Ragu’ Sauce

(“Ragu’ alla Siciliana”)


 


The ragu’ is a sauce that has the taste of meat and mostly used as a pasta condiment. The word “ragu” is adapted from the French ragout or ragouter meaning to tease the appetite.
Ragu’ sauce is made all over Italy and it varies from region to region and to be more precise from family to family.
In Northern Italy the famous Bolognese sauce is basically made with chopped meat, onions, carrots, celery and such a small amount of tomato paste it is hardly detectable. You go a few miles outside Bologna and you will barely notice the presence of tomato and the further south of Italy you go the more red the ragu’ becomes.
In Sicily the ragu’ is a sauce made when the family gets together or for that special occasion when there are a lot of guests.
The familiar name is “Sunday Sauce”, it is prepared the day it is served when the family is reunited for the Sunday dinner. I have notice this tradition still alive not only in families of Sicilians and their descendants but also in many Italian-American families.
Mr. Frank Curcurato made some observations on the different ways this sauce was made by his Sicilian paternal grandmother from Syracuse and the maternal grandmother from Naples. As for the name, Frank tells me that some families living in New Jersey call it “New York Sauce”.
You will find a description of the different ways to make this sauce.
The Sicilian Ragu’ was originally made with a very thick tomato paste called in dialect “astrattu” (estratto, extracts), sautéed with onions and to enhance the taste bones where added preferably of pork, beef or veal.
According to the season or the family pantry, fresh or preserved tomatoes are used with the paste. Accordingly to the number of persons sharing the meal are added salsiccia (sausages), pittinicchi (boned pork spareribs), cotenna (pork’s skin), polpette (meat balls) or a boneless loin roast stuffed with garlic.
When my mother cooked ragu’, my father who knew about cooking, supervised the preparation as a strict observer to make sure that my mother would not make any short cut but follow rigorously the traditional procedure.
To cook the ragu’ it would take a few hours and the smell filled the air. Our big dining room table was always full to capacity because without fail, the scent attracted some of our neighbors, who were also friends that would enjoy the “Sunday Ragu’” with us.
It was a “Piatto Unico”, a complete meal because the sauce was used as a condiment for the pasta and the meats were used as the entree.

 

SERVES 10 

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 medium onions chopped finely 
  • 1 cup olive oil 
  • 2 cans 28 oz. peeled tomatoes 
  • 2 cans 12 oz. tomato paste. Diluted in 1 cup of water 
  • 10 leaves basil 
  • A pinch of oregano 
  • 2 bay leaves 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 
  • 1 lb. pork neck bones 
  • 10 pork spareribs 
  • 5 links of sausages 
  • 8 oz. pork skin cut in thin strips 
  • You can also add meat balls, boneless pork or beef loin roast larded with garlic. 

 

PREPARATION 

Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until the onions are golden, 4 to 6 minutes.  
Add tomato paste a little at a time, stirring constantly. Cook it a few minutes and add an additional 2 cups of water. In a large bowl strain tomatoes to eliminate the seeds, or if you do not mind the seeds use a blender to crush the tomatoes, put into the saucepan. Add salt, pepper, oregano, and bay leaves. Increase heat to high, bring to a boil and cook for 4 minutes.
Wash neck bones, spareribs, and pork skin strips, add them to the pot.
Separate sausages into links and with any other meat, add to the sauce.
Heat to a boil, then reduce heat, taste for salt and simmer for 2 hours. 
If it is too salty add a few skinned whole potatoes. When you first begin to cook the sauce it will be a little watery, as the sauce cooks it will reach the right consistency.  

   

 

 

 

VARIATIONS

The New York Sauce made by Mr. Curcurato’s friends and many Sicilian families, is prepared with tomato paste, garlic, onions, oregano parsley and basil. The sausages and meatballs are fried and the oil and fat rendered is used to sauté onion and garlic. In this type of sauce wine is added when the onions are sautéed

The majority of Syracuse’s Sicilian-American sauté all the meat, (sausages, bones and meat balls) and they use part of the fat rendered mixed with olive oil to sauté the onions, they add 5 or more whole garlic cloves and then follow the same procedures as per the Ragu’ Sicilian Style.