Better Than Rosies Meat Ragu Recipe

Sunday, June 5, 2011


There’s a popular story that’s been floating around my family for years.  My mother revels in telling it, and every time she does, it elicits a mixture of nervous laughs, horrified looks and hasty signs of the cross.  It’s about my mother’s childhood BFF, Rosie.  Rosie and my mom lived next door to each other while growing up, and for most of that time were inseparable.  They played with each other’s dolls, did each other’s hair and practically lived in each other’s houses.  Rosie wasn’t Italian, but my nonna loved her anyway.  After Rosie and Mom graduated from high school, my  mom began dating my dad and Rosie met a nice boy named Tommy.  Of course, they did a lot of double dating too.  And, when they both got married, they were each other’s maids of honor.

After a while, Rosie and Tommy bought their first house out in Long Island and moved away.  Since not many young couples had cars back then, Mom and Rosie didn’t see too much of each other anymore.  So, it was a huge deal when my father bought his first car, and we excitedly drove out to “the island” for our first visit to Rosie and Tommy’s place.   


Now, here is where I need to give you a little background information in order for this story to make sense.  For those of you who don’t know, my father was an Italian immigrant.  He was born and raised in a little hill town halfway between Rome and Naples.  Life in the Italian countryside in the mid-20th century was rustic, at best – especially during World War II.  My father grew up on a farm and everything his family ate, they grew.  Each year during tomato season, all of the women in the village canned tomatoes for use throughout the rest of the year.  They’d never even heard of tomato sauce from a jar, and I’m sure that the very idea would have been abhorrent to them.

My mother’s family was from the same hometown as my father.  When he came to this country in 1956, he naturally settled in the same area as my Mom’s family and the rest of the “paisans” from home.    They carried their food traditions with them across the ocean, and cooked the way they did back in the old country – with fresh, unprocessed, whole foods.   And, every year the women still got together for a marathon tomato preserving session.  The hundreds of jars of tomatoes it yielded were stored in their basements and garages while waiting to be cooked into luscious gravies and sauces made from scratch.


Okay. Back to the story…

So, there we were, out at Rosie and Tommy’s house on Long Island – only I don’t really remember it because I was barely a toddler.   Dinner time came rolling around, as it always does, and Rosie prepared a meal for us.  Now, here’s the kicker.  She opened a jar of Ragu Pasta Sauce, poured it over some boiled spaghetti and put it in front of my “barely off the boat” Italian father.  Oh, yes she did!  Rosie served my father tomato sauce from a jar.  And, this was the sixties.   Jarred tomato sauce wasn’t what it is today.  There were no premium, all natural, gourmet brands.  Just Ragu.  I may have been just a little tyke, but even I knew that serving Ragu to Italian dinner guests was a great, big no no.

My father, being the gentleman that he was, choked down a few bites and then devoured the salad as he sidestepped the canned green beans.  My mother, on the other hand, was absolutely outraged.  Never, even on her worst day, would she serve Ragu – and to company, no less!  Fai scumbari! But, they both held their tongues, muddled through and hoped for a better breakfast.

The next morning, when Rosie whipped out a jar of Tang to make my parents some “orange juice”, my mother announced that I had “swollen glands” and that we had to leave.  On the way home, we stopped at White Castle for a bag of burgers and vanilla shakes.  That was the last time we went to Long Island.

Rosie and Tommy came in to the city to visit us several times after that, and my mother always made sure to demonstrate the “proper” way to feed guests.  No jars, no cans and definitely, no fake orange juice!


After the story I just told you, you will probably find what I’m about to say shocking.  But, every once in a while I – the fruit of my mother’s womb – do, in fact, use jarred tomato sauce.  I know that this must be quite a blow to some of you, but before you boil me in extra virgin olive oil, hear me out.

Although homemade tomato sauce isn’t difficult to prepare, a good meat sauce does take some time.  When I do make a sauce from scratch, I usually make a lot so that I can freeze some for later.  However, sometimes I run out.  And, sometimes I’m just really feeling tired and lazy.  When that happens and I want a bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce, I buy a couple of jars of a good quality premium sauce to use as a base and jazz it up.  A few of my favorites are Rao’s and Dell’Amore brands.

I start out by browning ground beef and Italian sausage meat.  Then, I add lots of onions and fresh mushrooms.  I stir in some white wine and simmer it all together until the wine evaporates.  Then, I add the tomato sauce and fresh basil and heat it through.  That’s all there is to it.  In the time it takes to make the pasta, I have a rich, hearty and incredibly tasty meat sauce ready to go.   And, I’m telling you that if I served this dish to you, you wouldn’t know the difference.  My quick and easy meat ragu is so delicious that my father probably even wouldn’t be able to tell!

Let’s face it.  We’re all busy people and sometimes we take shortcuts in our kitchens.  The trick is to find shortcuts that don’t sacrifice quality and flavor in the process.  My meat ragu doesn’t.  And, I can guarantee one thing.  It’s better than Rosie’s!



23 responses to Better Than Rosies Meat Ragu Recipe

  1. On June 05, 2011 at 4:21pm, Rosa said...

    Your ragù looks delicious! I could eat that on a daily basis.

    I love the picture of the tomatoes.



  2. On June 05, 2011 at 4:45pm, Janet@fromcupcakestocaviar said...

    I loved the story. I can just see that happening lol.
    Now though… I want Spaghetti 😀

  3. On June 05, 2011 at 6:53pm, ciaochowlinda said...

    That was pretty funny. I would have been horrified too, as would my Italian parents, to be served a meal like that. But here’s another similar story: We were invited to dinner at a former professor of mine and his wife had dinner all waiting for us when we got there – She had made spaghetti with tomato sauce and precooked it – she just reheated it when we got there. You can imagine the mush it was. I’m craving pasta now too and fortunately have some homemade sauce and meatballs ready to go.

    • On June 05, 2011 at 10:46pm, Susan said...

      OMG! That might even be a worse faux pas than Rosie’s! 😉

  4. On June 05, 2011 at 7:20pm, MaryBeth said...

    The sauce looks pretty yummy to me…I would eat a big bowl of pasta and sauce.

  5. On June 06, 2011 at 2:21am, Aarthi said...

    This looks yummy….you have a lovely blog…I am having a giveaway in my blog..Y dont you check and join that

  6. On June 06, 2011 at 9:35am, bellini said...

    Back in the 60’s convenience was the order of the day. I remember being served canned potatoes and carrots and thinking they were not bad, but then we also ate SPAM and canned corned beef hash. Appalling to all senses.

    • On June 06, 2011 at 12:01pm, Susan said...

      Remember Swanson’s TV dinners? We kids thought they were such a treat! :)

  7. On June 06, 2011 at 12:00pm, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    Okay. I will hold my tongue on the topic of jarred sauce. 😉

    I would love a good ragu right now. I have that husband/beef problem though. Maybe I need to have some company over and get to making something for them.

    I’m laughing that you couldn’t have jarred sauce and Tang, but White Castle is okay. 😀

    • On June 06, 2011 at 12:02pm, Susan said...

      Hey! White Castle is sacred! It was the only fast food my dad would ever eat.

  8. On June 06, 2011 at 5:55pm, Mrs. L said...

    I’ve been hungry today but nothing has looked appealing…until your ragu! Not sure why, but just that the photo hits the spot.

  9. On June 06, 2011 at 7:00pm, layla said...

    oh it happens now.. there is no way i would ever use or serve ragu sauce. thats is blasphemy and horrible tasting junk. i wouldnt even use it as a pizza sauce base. and im a 3rd generation american italian. i woulodnt even think of serving it to guests lol

  10. On June 06, 2011 at 7:01pm, layla said...

    the point is that ragu is commercialized italian… not REAL. like dominos and pizzahut.. no real italians would eat there.

  11. On June 06, 2011 at 8:10pm, Nancy said...

    What a great story, thanks for sharing it! As the others I am now craving pasta! Wish I had some hamburger ans sausage.

  12. On June 06, 2011 at 8:11pm, Nancy said...

    What a great story, thanks for sharing it! As the others I am now craving pasta! Wish I had some hamburger and sausage.

  13. On June 06, 2011 at 9:19pm, Maria Sireci said...

    Just curious about which town your parents are from. My mom is from a mountain town between Rome and Naples called Vallemaio.

    • On June 06, 2011 at 10:17pm, Susan said...

      It’s a small world! My family is from Esperia, which is in the province of Frosinone. It is near Cassino and Pontecorvo. It looks like Vallemaio is just a few towns over. :)

  14. On June 07, 2011 at 7:49pm, roz said...

    Gorgeous photos and a very interesting and different way to prepare bolognese/ragu sauce. Buon Appetito!

  15. On June 09, 2011 at 11:46pm, ann marie said...

    one of my greatest sins was asking my mom at thanksgiving dinner if my great grandmother sitting next to me knew the gravy came from a jar. the whole table was completely silent and looking at me. my great grandmother was thankfully deaf by then.

    about jar sauce…honestly i dont see what the big deal is. especially if you are going to doctor it up. its faster than a true gravy day dinner that i only do maybe once a year. my parents dont even do it from scratch anymore ever.

    i will tell you something else. my mothers family were italian and great cooks. but my dads family were norwegian (yuck to that food) and my grandmother was german (pennsylvania dutch) and french. she cooked basic american food using canned everything which i found horrifying. but that woman could bake and no one in my family, several of whom are CIA trained chefs and we have owned family bakeries, could ever beat her baking even now. it was like nothing to her to bake unbelievable cakes and pastries for every meal. she had some baking chops.

    love these stories!

  16. On June 15, 2011 at 7:17pm, Anne Galivan said...

    Granted my family was not Italian…I am Irish, French and German. But I grew up on Ragu and still love it. The only time I go with another sauce out of the jar is if it happens to be on sale.

    I also cook with canned diced tomatoes and make some nice sauces for various meats. But for spaghetti there is nothing like Ragu in my opinion.

    And I don’t often cook with fresh tomatoes because there’s rarely tomatoes in the store worth using. Frankly I think canned tomatoes, especially diced tomatoes, are exceedingly versatile and just as healthy.

    And though it would be nice to grow my own tomatoes, we basically live in the woods and to get enough sun to be able to grow a garden would take cutting down 20 (at least) or so 80-ft. tall trees. Not going to happen.

  17. On July 28, 2011 at 11:56am, Jenna said...

    This recipe sounds delicious! I would make it today if it weren’t 90+ degrees and 70% humidity and no a/c! Just wondering if your recipe can be multiplied and frozen?

  18. On February 13, 2012 at 3:59am, Shelby said...

    I don’t know, but somehow I see this story in a whole different light. Seems like Rosie was trying to do something good by serving Italian food. Maybe she was afraid to make a sauce on her own and thought Ragu would be better. As for the Tang, well no it’s not healthy, but neither was going to White Castle for hamburgers and milk shakes really. We all have our foibles.

  19. On June 17, 2012 at 9:09pm, Andrew said...

    This is a terrific story. I grew up in Brooklyn and lost a couple of early childhood friends to the Island. I miss Brooklyn, the food, and the people terribly.

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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