By Laura Mack
January 24, 2017
This 30-Minute Italian Sausage Ragu tastes so rich and flavorful, you’ll think it must have simmered all day. With a few shortcuts, you can enjoy complex, savory flavors in a quick weeknight dinner without busting your carb budget!
In the USA, when we hear the term “ragu,” many of us think of the brand of mediocre bottled pasta sauces called “Ragu.” This dish, however, refers to a traditional Italian meat ragu, such as Bolognese sauce, which is also usually served with pasta.
“In northern Italy regions, ragù typically uses minced, chopped or ground meat, cooked with sauteed vegetables in a liquid. The meats may include one or more of beef, chicken, pork, duck, goose, lamb, mutton, veal, or game, including their offal. The liquids can be broth, stock, water, wine, milk, cream or tomato, often in combination. If tomatoes are included, they are typically limited relative to the meat, making it a meat stew rather than a tomato sauce with added meat.
In southern Italian regions… ragu is often prepared from substantial quantities of large, whole cuts of beef and pork, and sometimes regional sausages, cooked with vegetables and tomatoes. After a long braise (or simmer), the meats are removed and may be served as a separate course without pasta.” (Wikipedia)
This recipe is similar to a ragu from northern Italy, with the emphasis on ground meat, rather than tomato sauce. That enables us to keep the carbs for this dish at a manageable level. With the ragu, I often use “zoodles” (spiral-cut zucchini ‘noodles’) in place of regular pasta to keep things carb friendly and to amp up the nutrition. If zoodles don’t appeal to you, you could always substitute shirataki noodles, spaghetti squash, or enjoy a bowl of it straight up, without noodles (think of it as Italian-style chili!).
For this hearty ragu, I use ground Italian-style sausage because my husband is nuts about it (and I like it, too). However, you could easily substitute your favorite ground meat, for example, chicken, turkey, or beef. For the sausage, I generally purchase fresh (raw) mild Italian-style sausage that comes link-style, and I remove the casings. Bulk-style is fine, too, as long as you can find good quality sausage without unwanted additives. There are also many already-cooked link sausages (especially chicken- and turkey-based) that can be substituted, but check the package to avoid added sugars. If using cooked sausage, rather than raw, reduce the quantity by one-fourth (24 ounces instead of 32), and dice into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces.
My first short-cut is to use no-sugar-added marinara sauce because it gives a bit more of a ‘simmered’ tomato flavor, as well as extra seasoning. However, you could easily substitute the equivalent amount of canned diced tomatoes, but you might want to simmer the sauce an extra 15 to 20 minutes to take out some of the raw flavor, as well as amp up the oregano, garlic, and (probably) salt.
My other trick to give the illusion of a long-simmered sauce is to add a few umami (savory) boosters: porcini mushroom powder, tamari sauce, and red wine. If you have a rind from parmesan cheese in the freezer, you can throw that in the sauce as well (just fish it out, along with the bay leaf, before serving). If you don’t have, or choose not to use, any or all of these, you will still have a delicious ragu; it just won’t have the same complexity of flavor.
As I mentioned, I like to serve this 30-Minute Italian Sausage Ragu with zoodles. Spiralizing vegetables has become a bit of a “thing” over the past couple of years. I don’t know if it’s driven by low carb and paleo folks who are looking for grain-free noodle substitutes, or because making swirly shapes out of veggies is just plain fun. Perhaps it’s because it’s amusing to say “zoodles.” It’s probably a combination of all three! There are spiralizers that are hand-held, as well as counter-top models with crank handles. Several years ago, Deb gave me this hand-held model for my birthday and it’s worked quite well. This past Christmas, we both decided it would be fun (though not at all necessary) to upgrade to one of the counter-top models. So, we gave each other the same model. Mind you, we planned this in advance — that’s how weird we are! We each bought one, wrapped it, and gave it to the other. And we’ve been having fun with them ever since! I’m moving my hand-held model into the RV so that I can spiralize on the road.
You can lightly cook zoodles, or serve them raw. I like them both ways, as long as they’re not overcooked. A quick minute or two in the microwave or a short saute in olive oil on the stove will do it. Think “al dente,” like real pasta. Be sure to season with a little sea salt, too. I generally use 3 to 4 ounces of zucchini for one serving. Tip: most spiralized veggies hold up well in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, so it’s great to make up some extra to have on hand to add to salads or soup.
You will be so happy that you invested 30 minutes to make a pot of this rich Italian Sausage Ragu. Ladle up a bowl, without or without zoodles, sprinkle on some freshly-grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano cheese for an extra umami punch, and savor the goodness. Best part: this recipe serves eight, so unless you have a big family, there will be leftovers and/or extra portions for the freezer. The sauce will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator, tightly covered, or in the freezer for up 6 months. Uncooked zoodles will keep for 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator, but I wouldn’t recommend freezing them.
30-Minute Italian Sausage Ragu
Author: Laura Mack
Recipe type: Main Dish
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 30 mins
So rich and flavorful, you'll think this ragu must have simmered all day. With a few shortcuts, you can enjoy complex, savory flavors in a quick weeknight dinner without busting your carb budget!
32 oz / 907 g Italian-style pork sausage, raw (or 24 oz / 680 g cooked)
2 tsp / 10 ml olive oil or avocado oil
4 oz / 113 g onion, diced (about ½ medium)
6 oz / 170 g green bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 medium)
1 tsp / 4 g minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground black pepper
¼ tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 oz / 57 ml dry red wine
32 oz / 907 g marinara sauce, no sugar added
1 tbsp / 15 ml tamari sauce
2 tsp / 3 grams dried porcini mushroom powder
Optional: parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano cheese, freshly grated; low carb noodles
- Heat a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat. Add half of the sausage and saute until it is mostly cooked, about 5 minutes, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon. Using a slotting spoon, transfer cooked sausage to large bowl or plate. Repeat with the remaining sausage.
- While sausage is cooking, chop the onion and bell pepper, and gather the remaining ingredients. When the second batch of sausage is cooked and transferred out of the pot, reduce the heat to medium and add the oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and bell pepper and saute for 3-4 minutes until slightly translucent and beginning to brown around the edges. Stir in the garlic and spices, followed by the red wine. Cook until the wine is mostly reduced, just a minute or two. Add the marinara sauce and remaining ingredients, except for the optional items. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring regularly to keep sauce from burning to the bottom.
- If the sauce has thickened more than you would like, add ¼ to ½ cup of water to reach the desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with optional grated cheese and/or your favorite low carb noodles.
- Let any leftover sauce cool to room temperature (no more than 1 hour), stirring occasionally, before transferring to the refrigerator to finish chilling before tightly covering. The ragu will keep for up to five days in the refrigerator, or in the freezer for up 6 months.
Nutritional info* for 1 serving (about 1 cup): 492 cal, 41.3 g total fat (78%), 13 g sat fat, 9.5 g total carbs, 1.9 g fiber, 7.6 g net carbs, and 19.2 g protein.
*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from www.nutritiondata.self.com, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.