Quick Meat Ragout with Orecchiette

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This is a rich and hearty sauce that you can make in just about the amount of time it takes to boil a pound of orecchiette.


Italian for “little ears,” orecchiette are those nickel-sized round noodles that look like tiny hats or flying saucers.

Just because it’s a quick sauce doesn’t mean it’s short on flavor. There are a few tricks to developing a deeply robust, plate-licking sauce in a short amount of time.

To build layers of flavor, start by browning ground beef and pork in melted butter. Toss in small but potent hits of ground clove, ginger, garlic, and freshly cracked black pepper—followed by a healthy dose of red wine and tomato paste.

Finish it with a hunk of cold butter and a handful of diced tarragon and your ragout will be glossy and faintly licorice scented.

(Your guests may ask you whose Italian grandmother is hiding in your kitchen.)

The other great thing about this dish is that it feeds a crowd—or will leave you with a few days’ worth of leftovers, if you don’t feel like sharing.

Quick Meat Ragout with Orecchiette

1 lb. orecchiette
2 Tbls. butter
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 Tbls. garlic powder
salt to taste
1 tsp. ground bay leaf
dash of ground clove
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
black pepper
2 Tbls. tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1 28-oz. can ground peeled tomato
1/4 cup fresh tarragon, minced
2 Tbls. butter

Get the pasta cooking
Set a large pot of water on the stove over high heat. When it comes to a boil, toss in some kosher salt and add the orecchiette.

Stir occasionally to keep the noodles from glomming together. Break up any noodle clumps that form with a wooden spoon.

Start the sauce
Melt 2 Tbls. of butter in a large pan on top of the stove over medium-high heat.

Grab your ground pork and beef from the fridge. Unwrap them and add them to the pan when the butter has melted.

Stir the meat with a wooden spoon to break it up as it starts to cook.

After a few minutes, the meat should start to give off some juice and look about like this. While it’s not a super attractive sight (yet!), your kitchen should have that heavenly, fried-hamburger smell at this point.

Add the garlic powder, ground bay leaf, clove, and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Continue to cook the meat on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s fairly browned.

Toss in the diced onion. Stir to combine.

Continue to brown the spiced meat and onions until they look about like this. All those brown bits are pure flavor.

Add the tomato paste to build the next layer of flavor.

Stir well to break it up and distribute evenly. Start to scrape at the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon to deglaze it. The tomato paste should have enough moisture in it to allow you to get all those brown bits.

Continue to cook over medium-high heat for another few minutes. Pour in the wine.

Stir to combine. Cook for a minute or two. The wine should almost instantly evaporate and incorporate into the sauce.

Add the can of ground tomatoes.

Stir to combine.

Turn the heat down to low. Cover the pan up fairly tightly. The pan I used doesn’t have a lid, so I used a pizza pan, which worked just fine.

While you’re waiting for the pasta to finish cooking, give the sauce a stir every once in a while. It will be really thick. Otherwise, keep it covered so it doesn’t lose too much moisture.

Finish the ragout with tarragon and a little butter
Right before you drain your pasta, toss the minced tarragon and 2 tablespoons of butter into your ragout.

Stir to mix well and melt the butter.

Your finished ragout should look about like this:

Drain the pasta
When the pasta’s cooked to your liking, drain it well.

Add the pasta to the sauce
Dish the pasta out and top with a generous amount of ragout. Serve and enjoy.

You have a few choices for how to serve this
You can also add the drained pasta right to the pan and stir to combine it. Or, you could do that, then put it in a lasagna pan topped with handfuls of grated cheese and bake it in the oven til the cheese is brown and bubbly.


Copyright 2008 The Hungry Mouse�/Jessica B. Konopa. All rights reserved.

Stonewall Kitchen, LLC

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie works as an advertising copywriter in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.


  1. Everything's better with cheese! I'll have to try this, but popping it in the oven for a few. Looks much yummier than my usual middle of the week spaghetti. Thanks, Jessie!
  2. this seems like a great weeknight meal :) I'm always up for some easy and quick to prepare yet tasty weeknight dinner. i'm going to try this this upcoming week. thanks
  3. Meat sauce and little ears go together so well. All the little saucy goodies get stuck in the nooks and crannies of the little ears, yum! Tarragon is something I've never used in a meat sauce, I'm going to sneak some in mine next time. Great idea!