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Sara Jenkins’ Incredibly Easy Sausage Ragù or Ragù Done Right

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Julia Moskin of the Times

When I was growing up, my WASP mother often made a dish called “Spaghetti Meat Sauce”.  I loved it.  The recipe came from a neighbor in our WASPiest of WASP enclaves. It later turned out that its author was a closet Italian-Canadian, because Italians just didn’t exist at that time in WASPdom.  The other day, Julia Moskin, who writes a column in the New York Times called “Recipe Lab”, recalled her introduction to “Meat Sauce” in her similarly non-Italian household.  Her “Meat Sauce” however, unlike my Mother’s, was hit or miss. In fact, Ms. Moskin refers to her recipe as ‘unpredictable’, regularly “thin, sour, sweet, chewy or all of the above.” So Ms. Moskin enlisted the guidance of Sarah Jenkins.         

Ms Jenkins is a New York chef with a background in Italian cooking.  She grew up in Tuscany and she cooked all over Italy before landing in New York.  Here she is famous for commanding two must-stops on any food-centric visit to the city. Porchetta (110 East 7th St. Tel 212 777 2152), her sandwich shop, is just down the block from Porsena (21 East 7th St. Tel: 212 228 4923) where Chef Jenkins presides over some of the city’s best pasta. She’s even written a book about it called “Four Seasons of Pasta”(Avery 2015) with Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who is her mother and a noted food writer.


Sara Jenkins as seen through the window
of Porchetta

Like many Italian-trained chefs, Italian-American cooking is something of a mystery to Ms. Jenkins.  Items that never appear in Italy are staples here including Pepperoni Pizza and Garlic Bread.  And as to that classic “Sunday Sauce”, well, Ms. Jenkins allows that she has never seen plain pasta topped with meat sauce anywhere in that country.  Instead, Ms Jenkins offers up a recipe that Ms. Moskin describes as “absurdly simple”.  But before offering it up, she shares Ms. Jenkins goal:  “A succulent bowl of pasta, steaming hot and savory with meat juices, concentrated tomatoes and aromatics.”   The weather this weekend is the coldest in months and so it seemed the perfect night for Pasta.  It was even a Sunday so I would have time to stew over my sauce.  The recipe, however, called for only 2 hours.

What differentiates Ms. Jenkins’ recipe from others I have made? It’s really not the sauce, which is straightforward and relies mainly on cooking everything slowly, steadily and at low heat.  Its ingredients are standard stuff; pork sausage, onion, carrot, celery and whole tomatoes.  But it’s the final step of combining the pasta with the sauce that makes all the difference and gave Ms. Moskin’s article it’s name: Ragù Done Right.  The sauce is combined with the pasta when it is very hot and al dente.  That way the pasta absorbs the sauce, actually continuing the cooking process.  The pasta’s cooking liquid is essential here. It is added in increments so the pasta cooks on becoming softer and plumper.  Finally, you use the cooking water to swoosh the serving bowls thereby heating them so they don’t cool your perfect pasta.   A little more sauce ladled on top, some parsley and you have it, Ragù done right!   Here is the recipe.

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