Hot Italian sausage is the star ingredient of this sausage ragu which lends rich layers of flavor simmered with mild tomatoes and seasoned vegetables. As if the sausage ragu wasn’t good enough alone, it is served poured over creamy polenta with melted parmesan cheese which this dish over the top, literally.
I stumbled across this recipe last year in a copy of Cooking Light magazine and added it to my To-Try Recipe Binder. I made this Italian sausage ragu a few times to ensure I tweaked it just right before sharing the recipe with you.
The original recipe boasts about speeding up the process of making Italian ragu.
I’ll stop right there…
I’m sorry, but you cannot rush good Italian food. No way, no how! I’m not an expert on Italian food by any means. But one thing I know for sure and that is that true Italian ragu or any kind of meat sauce, for that matter, involves slow simmering vegetables, meat, and spices together for hours.
I followed the instructions of the original recipe and both times I ended up with very toothy carrots. To me, there isn’t anything worse than eating vegetables in a thick rich sauce that are undercooked. It’s one of the worst mouthfeels ever.
Simmering is where all the layers of flavor come from. I am not sure why anyone would ever skimp out on simmering any kind of Italian sauce. I mean, really. It’s not like simmering something on the stove is hard. You can do other things while it’s happening. Set a timer if you are afraid you’ll forget to check on it for crying out loud! I don’t know, I tend to be a little harsh at times and it seems to be getting worse with age.
The remedy to the toothy carrots was to chop them smaller and cook them longer. Needless to say, this is recipe is not a shortcut version of Italian ragu. However, it is NOT complicated to make. The sauce just needs a little time on your stovetop to develop the flavors. It is well worth the simmering time and I know this is a recipe you and your family will enjoy!
So let’s dive into this Italian Sausage Ragu, shall we?
When making a ragu of any kind, you don’t want to steam or sear the ingredients, you want to gently fry the ingredients. Having a good heavy skillet, pot, or Dutch oven is a good way to ensure good consistent even heat.
I have been using my Chantal 11-inch for almost everything these days. We discovered Chantal cookware when we went to a Sara Moulton cooking show in Winchester, Virginia a couple of years ago (Read more HERE). These pans have copper melted into the stainless steel to help conduct the heat quickly. Just make sure you use something heavy when making ragu.
The Italian Sausage
For this recipe, I chose hot Italian pork sausage, because of its heat and it compliments the mild tomatoes beautifully. Using good quality Italian sausage seasoned with garlic, fennel, and other spices is a great way to ensure that the meat is seasoned well without having to add any seasoning of your own. I have never been able to find fresh Italian sausage in bulk, so I buy the links and remove the casing.
When making this ragu, feel free to use any type of meat you like. You could use pork, beef or turkey sausage, or a combination of meats. You could also substitute with plain ground meat and season the meat with your own blend of Italian spices. For example, a combination of both ground beef supplemented with some pork will render a little more fat, have a sweeter flavor and a with a fine texture.
Cooking the Ragu
When cooking the vegetable or the meat, browning should take place as slowly as possible, so keep an eye on the heat. Use caution when using leaner meats. If the meat does not render enough fat, you may need to add some additional olive oil, as needed.
I decided to add some tomato paste to round out the flavor and give the ragu a little more sweetness to offset the spice of the sausage. When adding the tomato paste, it’s important to allow the tomato paste to brown, while stirring constantly. Cook the tomato paste, until you see it start to change from a bright red color to an orangy rust color. At this point, the paste is caramelized and full of flavor.
Browning tomato paste is the greatest tip I have ever learned. You can learn more about browning tomato paste HERE.
Finally, add in the tomato sauce and water. Stir well, scraping up the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. Give the ragu a taste. Season with salt and pepper, as needed.
Now the ragu is ready for simmering. Let the ragu simmer for at least 30 to 45 minutes, but if you have time, cover and let it simmer for an hour to two hours.
Pasta is an expected accompaniment to meat sauces. One thing I loved about this recipe is that the course, spicy pork ragu is offset by creamy, sweet polenta. Polenta is easy to make, gluten-free and a great change things up at the dinner table a bit. Polenta also has fewer calories, fat, and carbs than pasta, but it’s much higher in sodium. However, the savings on calories, fat, and carbs is somewhat diminished because parmesan cheese is added in, but the parmesan cheese is so worth it, don’t dare think about leaving it out!
However, be careful not to oversalt the polenta. The parmesan cheese will give it more salinity. I did not season with salt, until after I mixed in the parmesan cheese, to ensure it wasn’t oversalted.
Serve The Italian Sausage Ragu
Divide the polenta among four serving bowls and top each with the Italian sausage ragu, sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese and fresh parsley, if desired.
You are going to love this recipe, I just know it. Now, get to simmering!
Sausage Ragu Over Polenta
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 12 ounces Italian sausage
- 2 cups yellow onion finely chopped (about two medium onions)
- 1 ½ cups carrot finely chopped (about three medium carrots)
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 ½ cups water divided
- 15 ounces tomato sauce
- Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
- 1 cup polenta
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese fresh grated + extra for serving (optional)
- ¼ cup fresh Italian parsley chopped (optional)
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the sausage and cook stirring until crumbled and browned; about 5 to 7 minutes. Remove sausage from the skillet with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a bowl lined with paper towels or a sieve to drain. Remove the skillet from the heat, but do not wipe out the pan.
- Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and carrots. Return skillet to medium-high. If the sausage did not render enough fat add some olive oil if needed. When the oil is hot, add onions and carrots to the skillet, sprinkle with salt and pepper and give it a good toss incorporate. Let the carrots and onions cook over low heat at least 15 to 20 minutes to allow the carrots to soften and allow the flavors to develop, stirring occasionally.
- When the onions and carrots are tender, add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
- Push the onion mixture over to one side of the pan and add in the tomato paste. Allow the tomato paste to brown, stirring constantly. Cook the tomato paste, until you see it start to change from a bright red color to an orangy rust color. At this point, the paste is caramelized and full of flavor. (See notes)
- Add the Italian sausage back into the pan. Stir the mixture well to incorporate it all together.
- Next add in ½ cup water, and tomato sauce. Season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste. Let the ragu simmer for at least 30 to 45 minutes, but if you have time, cover and let it simmer for an hour to two hours.
Make the Polenta:
- Bring the remaining 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the polenta with a spoon or a whisk. Reduce the heat and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until thickened; about 5 minutes. Stir in the cheese and turn off the heat. Cover and let stand for a couple of minutes before serving.
- Serve the sausage ragu poured over the polenta, sprinkled with fresh parsley and extra parmesan cheese, if desired.