Basic Meat Ragù


Hip Pressure Cooking

Published by St. Martins Griffin

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Yields enough sauce for one 1-pound package of pasta When visiting a pressure cooker manufacturer in Germany I made this recipe to show them how good an easy Italian ragù (basic meat sauce) can be. I got into a heated argument with the company’s cooking demo manager. “Ground beef is fully cooked in 5 minutes, why pressure cook it for 15?!?” she asked in her most incredulous-sounding German. The answer lies in the Italian tradition of simmering meat sauces beyond just-cooked meat, but to continue instead until every last bit of the meat and its juices have melted into the sauce-doing this in the pressure cooker means 15 minutes, not 5. I prefer to use ground chuck for my sauce; its fat adds flavor that won’t be obtained from lean ground beef. Serve this sauce over reginette, pappardelle, fettuccine, or a short tube pasta that can capture the sauce, such as rigatoni or penne. Alternatively, use the sauce for filling one lasagna casserole.

NotesNote: This recipe cannot be halved. It may be doubled provided the total volume of the ingredients does not exceed two-thirds of the pressure cooker’s capacity.Variation

Ragù alla Bolognese

Follow the Basic Meat Ragù recipe, adding 4 ounces chopped bacon (or guanciale or smoked pancetta) before sautéing the onion, and replacing the chopped tomatoes with 1 cup meat stock and 4 tablespoons tomato paste. After pressure cooking, stir in 1 tablespoon cream instead of butter.

Ragù alia Napoletana

This ragù is common throughout the south of Italy Thrifty Italian cooks can squeeze two courses (or even two meals) from one recipe by cooking chops or another cut of meat in the tomato sauce, removing the meat, serving the sauce over pasta for a first course, and then serving the meat separately for the second, or main course, along with a green salad.

Follow the Basic Meat Ragù recipe, omitting all of the herbs and replacing the ground beef with any cut of pork, veal, or beef you have on hand-particularly chops-browning it as you would the ground beef. When you have finished pressure cooking, lift out the meat and transfer it to a serving plate. Cover, and keep warm to serve as a second course.

Get Hip About the Pressure

Recipes for pressure cooking indicate whether they are to be cooked at high or low pressure. In this book, the pressure cooking step is written like this:

“Close and lock the lid of the pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 7 minutes/stovetop or 8 to 10 minutes/electric (or nonstandard stovetop.)”

Although the way pressure is achieved and maintained differs for stovetop and electric pressure cookers, the meaning is the same for both: Once you lock the cover on the cooker, you select a pressure level, heat the cooker until it signals the selected pressure has been reached, and then you start counting the cooking time; electric cookers do some of this for you. When you come to the pressure cooking step in the recipes, bring the cooker to pressure in the manner appropriate for its type. Here’s the process for each type, in a nutshell.

For Stovetop Pressure Cookers

1. Add ingredients and liquid to the pressure cooker and select high or low pressure. Put the cooker on the stove burner.

2. Turn the burner heat to high and leave it there until the cooker signals pressure is reached.

3. Turn the burner heat down to the minimum required to maintain the pressure and begin counting the cooking time.

4. Release pressure and serve!

For Electric Pressure Cookers

1. Add ingredients and liquid to the pressure cooker and select a cooking program or set the pressure cooking time.

2. Press start and then wait for the beep that signals the end of cooking.

3. Release pressure and serve!

10-Minute Natural Release. There are also instances where Natural Release may take too long but you want the benefit of its continued cooking time. When this is the case, turn off the heat and wait 10 minutes; then, if the cooker hasn’t opened, release any remaining pressure using Normal Release. If the pressure comes down before the 10 minutes are up, which may be the case for a stovetop cooker, wait the full time before opening the cooker. This 10-Minute Natural Release technique is especially useful for rice and other grains, which benefit from the extra 10 minutes in the cooker’s steam. (If the cooking was done at low pressure, the recipe will instruct you to use this procedure but count only 5 minutes.)

Cooking Methodpressure cooking, sauteeing


Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentpressure cooker


Taste and Texturemeaty, savory

Type of Dishpasta sauce, sauces


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 fresh oregano sprig
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 10½ to 16 ounces ground beef chuck
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/3 cup red wine (whatever you’re having with dinner)
  • 1 cup chopped or crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • ½ cup water (for electric pressure cooker only)


  1. Heat the pressure cooker base on medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil, and heat until the butter has melted. Add the onion, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper and sauté, stirring infrequently, until the onion has softened. Stir in the carrot and celery.

  2. Move the contents to the side in the pressure cooker. Add the beef and garlic and stir to break up. Sauté, stirring infrequently, until the beef is brown on at least one side and the juices have evaporated, for 5 minutes, or longer if there are a lot of juices. To deglaze the cooker, stir in the red wine and cook until it evaporates completely Pour in the chopped tomatoes and the tomato puree; add the water if using.

  3. Close and lock the lid of the pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure (see Notes) for 15 minutes/stovetop or 18 to 20 minutes/electric (or nonstandard stovetop). When the time is up, open the pressure cooker with the Normal Release method (see Notes).

  4. Fish out and discard the herb stems. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the sauce and stir until melted. Serve the sauce over pasta or incorporate in lasagna or a similar recipe.


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