While Italian-American ragu tends to be lean towards tomato-based sauces, in Italy (and historically) ragu can be pretty much any long-braised sauce. Meaning that the most crucial element for a good ragu is time. The good news is that braising meats in wine and soffrito with fresh herbs for hours and hours makes your home smell amazing. Which is the first step to a good date. (We’re happy to help with other steps for a good date, too, if you want.)
I found the recipe for Ragu di Cortile (literally courtyard sauce) on one of my visits to Bologna over the years. It’s one of those dishes that stick with you. You’ll find yourself thinking back to it and craving it again and again. It’s comforting while also being somehow… light (another crucial date element). The flavors are highly concentrated and vibrant.
At its root, the dish is a light ragu that’s made of braised “courtyard” animals and fowl with simple veg and a lot of white wine. It’s also one of those very old-school Italian recipes that are going to vary pretty wildly — not just from region to region but from kitchen to kitchen. The sort of “what you have on hand” recipe that every foodway needs.
In my experience, the most common proteins are braised rabbit, duck, and chicken. You don’t need the best cuts of these meats. In fact, you want plenty of bone, skin, and cartilage to help bring a real depth to the final sauce (which should turn into solid gelatin if you put it in the fridge). You’ll also need a basic Italian soffritto — onion, carrot, and celery — some white wine (preferably light and dry), and some fresh herbs like rosemary and bay. That’s pretty much it. As with all classic Italian cuisine, the beauty is in coaxing huge flavors from minimal ingredients.
The recipe below is very much adherent to the rustic dishes I love best in Emilia-Romagna. All the ingredients are local to the Italian peninsula before American foods (tomatoes, corn, squash, beans, etc.) became centered in their cuisine. So this dish is taking it waaaaay back to hardcore ultra-traditional home cooking — which is often the best cooking when you’re talking about Italian food in Italy.
Tagliatelle Ragu di Cortille
- 1 duck leg with thigh
- 1 rabbit hind leg
- 1 rabbit front leg
- 2 full chicken wings
- 2 carrots
- 2 celery stalks
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 spring fresh rosemary
- 1 fresh bay leaf
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 bottle dry white wine
- 2 egg yolks
- 1-lb. fresh pasta
- Black Pepper
- Olive oil
- Parmigiano Reggiano
Don’t skimp on ingredients, especially proteins. You’re likely going to have to go to a butcher to get some rabbit legs, so get your chicken and duck there too. Ask about where it’s from, what breeds, how long it’s been there. The rest are ingredients you should be able to get at any grocery store. If you’re growing your own herbs and have nice rosemary and bay from your own backyard, good on you! Use it!
As for the wine, I used a Pinot Grigio from Emilia-Romagna. It was around ten bucks. I’ve used Italian Chardonnay in the past too, and that also works well. You don’t want to go too heavy on the wine, though. You’re going to be braising for a long time and want a light touch.
I decided not to make pasta. I was being lazy (and busy). This dish is perfect for hand-torn pasta though — which is a great date night activity if you’re looking to get your hands a little dirty (insert your own sex puns). I bought some fresh tagliatelle and that works perfectly fine for this dish. I would advise against dry pasta. It will weigh the dish down too much and not have that pop you want from fresh pasta.
Lastly, there’s the salt-cured egg. You don’t need to bury an egg yolk in salt for a week. You can do a very quick pickle/salt cure in less than ten minutes. First, separate your yolks into a bowl (you need this for slipping the yolks into the bath with ease). Bring 1.5 cups of water to a boil with a teaspoon each of sea salt, white sugar, and white vinegar and fully dissolve into the water. Kill the heat. Slip in the two yolks and cover the pot with a plate. Let rest for four minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the yolks out and set them on the plate while it’s still on the pot of hot water to keep warm until you need them.
This will give the yolks a briny, umami-bomb flavor with a hint of sweetness. Yes, you can just poach two egg yolks if you want. But, these have a little extra x-factor that helps the end product shine that little bit more.
What You’ll Need:
- Large pot
- Large sautee pan
- Small pot
- Cutting board
- Kitchen knife
- Slotted spoon
- Wooden spoon
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Cheese grater
- Remove the duck, rabbit, and chicken from the fridge. Place on a plate, generously salt on both sides and allow to come up to room temp (about an hour).
- In the meantime, peel and chop the onion and carrot and chop the celery.
- Put a large pot on medium-high heat with a large glug of olive oil.
- Place the proteins into the pot and sear on all sides.
- Remove the protein to a clean plate once nicely seared.
- Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Use a wooden spoon to help bring up all the fond on the bottom of the pot from searing the proteins.
- Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and lower the heat to medium, allowing the fond, veg, and stock to create a soffrito.
- Once the stock has cooked away, you’ll hear the soffrito start to fry.
- Add the proteins back in with the rosemary and bay.
- Top with the wine and the rest of the stock (the liquid should just cover the proteins).
- Semi cover and lower the heat. Allow to it simmer for at least two hours (this should be a very low simmer) and up to four hours, if you can.
- Once the liquid has reduced to below the proteins, and the meat is falling off the bone, remove it from the heat.
- Fish out the proteins gently and place them on a waiting clean plate. Also, remove the bay and rosemary and discard.
- Use the tongs or a fork to pull the meat from the bone (it should fall off with almost no effort).
- Scrape the soffrito and remaining liquid from the large pot into a waiting large sautee pan. Add the proteins back in and place on the lowest heat, bring it to a bare simmer (like one or two bubbles every couple of seconds).
- In the same pot you braised the proteins, add water and a big pinch of salt and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add in the fresh pasta and cook for about three minutes (or according to the package’s instructions).
- Once the pasta is al dente, use your tongs to transfer the pasta from the pot to the sautee pan, making sure to brings some pasta water along with.
- Use the tongs to combine the pasta with the ragu. Splash with more pasta water to keep ragu moist (I needed maybe a spoon or two more).
- Turn the heat off and let the pasta rest for a few minutes.
- Use your tongs to roll some pasta onto a plate.
- Garnish with a fresh rosemary top, fresh parm, freshly cracked black pepper, and a cured egg yolk (recipe above).
Imagine the best chicken noodle soup you’ve ever had. Now, imagine that soup concentrated down into a ragu with delicate fresh pasta and you’ll have an idea of what this dish is.
This is one of those dishes where everyone at the table goes silent from the first bite. Then after the third or fourth bite, someone comes up for air and says, “Holy shit, this is really good” before tucking back in. Then everyone else sort of nods along in agreement with wide eyes and full mouths.
The yolk has a soft, creamy center which adds a textural and flavor element to the dish that takes it much higher than just a concentrated chicken noodle soup. The rosemary centers as the earthy star of the show, while the black pepper and parm offer sharp counterpoints.
The medley of duck, chicken, and rabbit creates this layered flavor profile that never over-powers or weighs down. The sauce is this damn near creamy silken ragu that’s fatty and earthy and meaty with nice little sweet carrot bombs waiting for your palate.
I’ve tried this recipe with garlic, spritzes of lemon juice, and just one protein, but it doesn’t quite work on the same level. The garlic is too much for the subtle beauty of this ragu. The lemon cuts through the fats and gelatin and kind of ruins the cohesiveness. If you’re forced into one protein, keep it rabbit as the duck will be too fatty and the chicken too thin. The fact that the rabbit is so lean is what balances the fat of the duck in the end.
Anyway, make this. It’ll be a hit. Your home will smell amazing for like a day. And whoever you’re making it for will come back for more.