The idea of making a flavorful ragu quickly may be anathema to some nonnas out there, and for that I must apologize. But for those of us who are a little impatient (aka me), there is one shortcut that can significantly cut down on the time it takes to make this thick, meaty sauce from scratch: using ground Italian sausage.
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Traditionally, ragu is cooked for several hours on low heat to develop the kind of complex flavor from the meat and vegetables that you just can’t get from a quick simmer. But the ragu recipe in America’s Test Kitchen Kids’ latest cookbook, The Complete Cookbook for Teen Chefs, cuts the traditional 2- to 3-hour simmering time down to just 45 minutes with an assist from ground sausage.
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A traditional ragu takes so long to cook because it usually starts out with a large, tough cut of meat, such as pork ribs or beef roast, which take a while to become tender. So for our recipe, we swapped the big cuts out for quick-cooking ground Italian sausage. And bonus: The spiced meat is more flavorful than plain ground pork. Browning it before adding the other ingredients also gives a head start to the flavor development that is so crucial to ragu.
If you can’t find ground Italian sausage (either sweet or hot will work in the recipe), you can also substitute Italian sausage links—just make sure to remove the casings before cooking.
Once you brown the meat and add the spices and vegetables, a 45-minute simmer is all it takes to turn the contents of your saucepan into a thick, meaty sauce that tastes like it took all day to make.
One more trick: Toss the sauce with the noodles in the pot to let the flavors meld before serving with Parmesan, fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil. Nonna-approved or not, the final result is worlds beyond anything you could get from a jar.
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