Balsamic Beef Ragu – I died and went to heaven.

This recipe is inspired by the delicious cavatelli with balsamic pork ragu dish I had at this restaurant recently. It was so, so, SO good. I wanted more! I resolved to try and recreate that delicious flavour at home. It would take a few different (easy) steps to prepare something similar but I HAD to have more! I wasn’t in the mood for pasta and the grocery store didn’t have the right cut of pork so my rendition of the dish ended up going in a slightly different direction than the original. Stewing beef was on sale at a decent price ($5.99/lb), so that was an easy choice. Braised beef tends to be super rich so I decided to pair it with a light starch to help create a balance. Enter spaghetti squash – a starchy vegetable that can be substituted for pasta, as the name implies. There you have it! The rest of my recipe closely follows the lines of the original dish. I roasted a couple clusters of grapes, toasted a few walnuts and shredded some radicchio. The end result was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever made at home. It was definitely worth the effort. I absolutely have to share the recipe with you and you absolutely should try it!

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Balsamic Beef Ragu – with spaghetti squash, radicchio, walnuts and roasted grapes

makes 4 servings

  • 1 lb stewing beef, diced into 1″ cubes
  • 1 small red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1/2  bulb of fennel (or 1 small), cored and sliced
  • 1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 small spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
  • 2 large clusters red seedless grapes
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 head radicchio, cored and sliced
  • 2 tbsp butter

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Preheat oven to 325F. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet or cast iron pan on med-high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add 2 tbsp cooking oil to the pan and then add the beef. Brown it well on all sides and place it into a deep casserole dish.

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Reduce the heat to medium, add the red onion into the pan and cook until translucent (about 2 minutes). Add the fennel to the pan and cook just until it softens slightly, another 2 minutes. Some of the brown bits of beef that are stuck to the bottom of the pan will lift off and get mixed into the veggies, this is a good thing. Add the veggie mixture to the casserole dish. Pour 2 cups of water into the pan and bring to a simmer while gently scraping up rest of the brown bits with a wooden spoon. This is called deglazing the pan; it helps build flavor. Once simmering, pour the liquid into the casserole dish along with the thyme, bay leaves and balsamic.

Cover with a lid or tightly wrap with tinfoil, place on the middle rack in the oven and allow to braise for 4 hours. When the meat is ready it will be so tender it falls apart.

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In the mean time you can prepare the other ingredients. Wash the grapes then toss them with a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place them in a small oven-safe dish and roast in the oven for 1 hour. Once they are done allow them to cool then pull them off the stems and set aside for later.

While the grapes are roasting you can toss the walnuts in a little olive oil, salt and pepper aswell. Then place them in a small oven-safe dish and roast them in the oven until they are just turning golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Set aside for later.

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Next, core and thinly slice the radicchio then store it in a container in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. You can then get the squash ready for the oven.  To prepare it, cut it in half length-wise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Brush the flesh lightly with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Place it cut side up on a baking tray. It will take about 1 hour to roast so plan for it to go in an hour before the beef will be ready. Place it either on the lower rack, or, if it will fit, on the same rack as the casserole dish.

Once the remaining hour has passed, take both the squash and beef out of the oven. Using a fork, pull the flesh of the squash away from the skin and fluff it slightly. Using a pair of tongs and that same fork, shred the chunks of beef. The onion and fennel will have cooked down enough to be mixed into the beef unnoticed. Huzzah, secret veggies!

Place 1/4 of the squash in the bottom of a large dinner bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the radicchio , then top with 1/4 of the beef mixture. Place a thin slice of cold butter on top of the beef, about 1/2 tbsp. Butter is recommended but optional; it adds flavor and will help keep the lean beef from having a dry texture. Place 1/4 of the grapes and walnuts on top and you’re ready to enjoy your first serving! I promise it won’t disappoint.

When storing everything in the refrigerator, I recommend keeping each component in it’s own container. When it comes time to reheat, place a serving of the squash, beef, and grapes together in a small dish and reheat covered. Then top with butter, radicchio and walnuts.

This recipe cost me roughly $4 per portion, a little pricey for my budget, but totally worth it. I can’t wait to eat the rest!

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