This pasta dish is inspired by Sapori Pugliesi, a humble trattoria in downtown Amsterdam. This place is in walking distance from where I work, and perfect for a quick, delicious and cheap meal after work if I’m going to stay downtown for whatever reason. They have great antipasti and fresh tagliatelle served with a variety of sauces. They also have delicious sandwiches for lunch. I really liked the “ragù allo chef”, which is a tomato sauce with slow-cooked beef, spiced with fennel seeds. My version is not the same, but what it does have in common is the use of fennel seeds. This makes the sauce different from a regular ragù napoletano.
It is important to use good stewing beef for this, with a lot of marbling (fat), and to cook it very slowly. A slowcooker (which I don’t own) would be perfect. I prefer to use semola di grano duro rimacinata (semolina flour) to make the tagliatelle, as that will give the pasta a coarse texture that will hold the sauce better. You could also use 00 flour if you can’t get semolina.
800 grams (1.8 lbs) stewing beef, cut into small cubes or strips
3 cans (400 grams/14 oz each) peeled tomatoes
1 Tbsp fennel seeds
4 Tbsp olive oil (or rendered beef fat)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
250 ml (1 cup) red wine
fresh tagliatelle made from 6 eggs and 600 grams of semola di grano duro rimacinata (or 800 grams (1.8 lbs) store-bought fresh tagliatelle)
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, if desired
The beef I used had a nice layer of fat, that I used instead of olive oil for additional flavor. I trimmed the fat from the beef, cut it into cubes, and put it in a casserole over medium heat.
Once it’s browned on all sides, remove the meat with a skimmer and reserve. Repeat until you have browned all the meat.
Once all the beef has been browned, add the onions and garlic to the same casserole. Add a bit of olive oil if needed. Sweat the onions until they are soft and fragrant over medium-low heat, about 10 minutes.
Add the fennel seeds and sauté for a minute longer.
Puree the tomatoes in the food processor. You could also use pureed tomatoes from a bottle, but the quality of the canned tomatoes I can get is better.
As this dish is inspired by a chef from Puglia, a red wine from Puglia is a good choice for this. The grapes in such a wine have been slow-cooked by the sun, similar to the beef in this ragù. You will notice that the red wine will bring out the fennel seeds in the sauce. Using the same red wine for the sauce will also help to make a match ‘made in heaven’.
These penne with roasted cauliflower, almonds and a cream sauce make for a filling pasta dish with great depth of flavor.