top of page

Vegetable Ragù

Updated: Feb 7

When she was first married, my grandmother used to cook something for my grandfather called finnan haddie. I had only heard of this in Peggy Lee's "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" and had to research what it was (smoked haddock). I didn't know it was a very popular dish in the early part of the last century, or that it was one of my grandmother's signature meals as a young wife. We often associate home cooking with family memories, and recipes handed down. It occurs to me that recipes really only survive as long as living memory. I have some of my mother's recipes, but none from either grandmother, at least nothing I would try to serve my family. You may have recipes from your grandmother, but I would be very surprised if you have anything from any earlier generations.

The reason for this is no doubt because we are the best fed and most spoiled people to have ever walked this earth, and food of even 80 years ago would probably not pass muster. My husband says he ran from his great-grandmother Anna's boiled chicken faster than her family ran from the Cossacks. (I have written before about my parent's total rejection of the Irish food of their youth). While I still use a lot of the ingredients and techniques from the cooking I grew up with, I seek out vegetarian options and flavors from other cultures.

Few recipes were handed down in my family, but cookware was. Some people want to inherit stock portfolios, jewelry, or real estate. I was thrilled to inherit my mom's vintage cast iron enamel Descoware Dutch oven. I remember so many delicious stews and sauces cooked in this pot. And I adore the whimsical Robert Markley design with its funky chicken, sheep, mushrooms, and watermelons.

They stopped making Descoware (with its proud "Made In Belgium" stamp on the bottom) in the 1970s, when the company was bought by its rival Le Creuset. Now all we get from Belgium is Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Every time I use this pot I think of my mom and her wonderful food.

This time of year I yearn for hearty pasta dishes, and one of my favorites is Alison Roman's braised short rib pasta. Then I came across a Food & Wine recipe by Kelsey Youngman for a ragù that has charred vegetables as its base. This is an idea nothing short of genius. On the infrequent occasions we use our charcoal barbecue, it's to grill vegetables, because there is nothing better than barbecued vegetables. The charred vegetables in this ragù makes for a deep, smoky, earthy flavor and heft that surpasses any meat sauce.

What you see below is riffing on Kelsey's brilliant recipe using what I had in the kitchen. It is 5 degrees out right now so I am not running to the store. This is an easy weeknight dinner that can easily be made vegan by substituting the pat of butter for oil and using non-dairy parmesan. It also tastes fine with no cheese topping.


1 large Spanish onion, peeled, root removed, and cut into eighths

3 ribs of celery, chopped into 3 inch pieces

2 carrots, chopped into 3 inch pieces

1 head of garlic

12 oz cremini mushrooms, cut in half

olive oil

butter (optional)

1 tube of double concentrated tomato paste

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 tsp dried thyme powder (can use regular dried thyme, but use more)

salt and pepper

red pepper flakes (optional)

10 oz large rigatoni

grated parmesan cheese


Preheat oven on broil.

Toss together 6 of the mushrooms, garlic, onion, celery, carrots, and 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt and a few grindings of pepper in a large bowl, Spread vegetables in a single layer onto a large sheet pan lined with non-stick foil (can also use parchment). Broil until vegetables are charred in spots, being sure to check on them and rotating them and turning them move to get color on all sides. This should take about 20-25 minutes, but my broiler doesn't work well and I only put the rack on the upper third of the oven for no good reason so it took a lot longer for me.

Transfer all the vegetables except for the garlic into a food processor. Break open garlic head and squeeze garlic out of its cloves and discard skins. Be careful doing this and don't burn your fingers and make a mess as I did. Add garlic to the food processor. Pulse until you get the vegetables into a fine dice - don't overdo it and end up with a purée- you want chunky texture. This should take about 1/2 dozen pulses, but keep going until you get the texture you want.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and one tablespoon of butter (butter optional) in a large, deep skillet over medium-high. Add the remaining mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste, along with the thyme. Add red pepper flakes if you are using them. Cook until browned on all sides. Squeeze out the entire tube of tomato paste and roast it in the pan until it becomes a brick red color. Add wine and keep stirring until mixture is slightly thickened. Stir in roasted vegetable mixture; season with a bit more salt and pepper. Turn heat to lowest setting.

Glorious colors of the sauce before adding pasta water and pasta.

Boil a spaghetti pot full of well-salted water. Add the rigatoni and cook through, saving 1 cup of the pasta water. Turn up heat slightly on the ragù. Add the pasta water to the sauce and stir. When the pasta is al dente, drain and toss with the sauce. Serves 4 with left overs.

75 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page