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White Ragu with Ground Beef and Balsamic Vinegar

Adapted from Padma Lakshmi. You could also make this with ground turkey, or really any ground meat you like, but I prefer the robust flavor of beef, plus it is what I keep on hand.

Course Entree
Cuisine Italian, Pasta


  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 3 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 T dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 pinches coarse Aleppo Pepper
  • 200 g beech or bunapi mushrooms, chopped (crimini or button mushrooms would work fine too)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 T freshly dried thyme leaves (or substitute 1 tablespoon fresh thyme)
  • 1 1/2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground beef
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ladles pasta cooking water, divided
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 lb dried pasta, cooked to desired doneness (or equivalent fresh pasta)


  • chopped flat leaf parsley
  • grated Pecorino Romano
  • Drizzled Balsamico (a better, more aged balsamic vinegar) see notes


  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the onions with a pinch of salt. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

  2. Add the dried oregano and bay leaves and let the onions continue to cook, another 5 minutes.

  3. Add the aleppo pepper and another pinch of salt. When the onions are beginning to caramelize, reduce heat to medium and add the mushrooms with another pinch of salt. Stir into the onions.

  4. Cook, stirring, for around 5 minutes until water starts to evaporate from the mushrooms. Add the thyme and mix in. 

  5. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar. Stir and scrape up any browned bits.

  6. Add the ground beef. Stir it into the mushrooms and onions, breaking it up into tiny pieces.

  7. Cook the ground beef, stirring occasionally, until it is browned, 5-10 minutes.

  8. Add the heavy cream and one ladle (about 1/2 cup) of the pasta cooking water. Reduce the heat to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer. Let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

  9. If the sauce seems to be getting kind of dry (mine did), add another ladle of pasta cooking water. Stir in and let cook for a few minutes to absorb.

  10. Stir in the grated Pecorino Romano. 

  11. When you are ready to serve, stir the 1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley into the ragu. Top the sauce on pasta and garnish it with more flat leaf parsley, more grated Pecorino Romano and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

Recipe Notes

When I say a good Balsamic vinegar for drizzling, I mean a bottle probably in the $30-$40 range--please do not use that $100 bottle of balsamic vinegar in this situation (if you even own one--I know I do not!!).