At this time of year, I just love to braise anything and everything, so you'll be seeing a lot of it around here. Braising makes the house smell wonderful for hours on end, and sitting by the fire on a cold night and enjoying those smells is just lovely.
I also love that you can make a braised meal and have the kitchen sparkling clean by the time the meal is ready. This makes braised dishes ideal for company, especially because the meal can even be prepared the day before, and if anything, it actually gets better.
I served this ragu with some homemade tagliatelli, but it would also be delicious incorporated into a simple lasagne. This amount of ragu is enough to lightly sauce four servings, or heavily sauce 2 servings of pasta, possibly with some left over. In the instructions below, I've written for enough pasta to serve 2 people with good appetites. If you would like 4-6 servings of pasta, use 400 grams of flour and 4 eggs.
- 2 1/2 pounds oxtail, cut into 2-4 inch pieces
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 small parsnip, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 small fennel bulb, chopped
- 1 can (15 ounces) plum tomatoes
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 3 small rosemary sprigs
- 3 sprigs oregano
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 cup chicken stock or water
- 200 grams all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon of a combination of chopped fresh rosemary and oregano
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- Balsamic vinegar*
Trim the oxtail of excess fat, and remove silverskin, if possible. Season with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour, shaking off the excess.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 6-quart Dutch oven. When the oil shimmers, add the oxtail and brown on all sides. You will most likely have to do this in batches; add more oil to the pot as necessary. Transfer the oxtails to a plate.
Add the onion, parsnip, and fennel to the pan and saute over medium heat until soft and browned, about 7 minutes. Add the wine and increase the heat to high. Boil until reduced by about a fourth, about 5 minutes. As the wine reduces, scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
While the tomatoes are still in the can, cut them into pieces with a pair of kitchen scissors. In a piece of cheesecloth, tie up the rosemary, oregano and garlic. Add this herb sachet and the tomatoes to the pot. Put the pieces of oxtail back in the pot.
If necessary, add enough water to come most of the way up the pieces of meat. Bring to a boil, cover, and place in the center of the oven. Cook until the oxtail is very tender and beginning to fall off the bones, about 3-4 hours. Check the meat halfway through the cooking time. If the liquid is no longer coming at least half way up the side of the oxtail pieces, add the chicken stock or water.
If you would like a fancier presentation, either use a stick blender to puree the sauce, or strain out the vegetables and puree them in a food processor; return to the pot. If you would like a more 'rustic' presentation, just leave the vegetables as they are.
When the sauce is the proper consistency and the meat is cool enough to handle, pick the meat off the bones and return to the pot. Let the meat warm through before serving. Add the red pepper flakes. Taste for seasoning, and add salt, pepper, and more red pepper flakes as needed. This dish is very good with a great deal of pepper.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 2-3 minutes. Drain the pasta and divide amongst the serving vessels of your choice. Spoon the ragu over the top of the pasta and serve.
*The balsamic vinegar does not have a quantity listed, as I added a few drops only to my own portion. I thought that the dish needed some acidity, and I thought that balsamic would be just perfect, but too much vinegar could have ruined the dish for Nick. For the whole pot, you'll likely want to use about a 1/2 teaspoon. Start with that and taste for flavor; add more if you like.