The epitome of comfort food is a hearty Ragu, slow cooked and rich with wine, garlic and herbs.  Earthy field mushrooms gave this dish another level of sublime flavour and the ‘Little Ear’ orecchiette pasta was the perfect vehicle, as the curved shape was a wee pocket for all the saucy goodness.  Again I used the stove top but this would be the perfect dish for the slow cooker.  Just brown your meat first and cook on low for 8 hours or until the meat is meltingly tender. Cibo bella!

Prep time:  20 Minutes              Cooking time:   3  Hours              $$  Low to Medium Budget

Serves 4-6  (4 starving, 6 hungry)

Olive oil for frying

500gm of Orecchietti pasta*

800gm of chuck steak cut into 3cm cubes

4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 brown onion, diced

8 thyme stalks

2 bay leaves

2 large field mushrooms (portobello or flat will do)

500ml of shiraz (drinkable)

1 cup of salt reduced beef stock

400gm tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbs of tomato paste

1 tsp of sugar

Sea salt and cracked pepper

2 tbs of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Freshly grated parmesan to serve

Heat a large casserole or frypan to a nice high heat and add a little olive oil.  Season the meat with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, in batches.  Transfer to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan lightly fry the onion until translucent for approximately 4-5 minutes.  Add a little more olive oil if necessary.  Cut a 10cm length of kitchen twine and tie the thyme and bay leaves in a small bundle.  The leaves will fall off during the cooking process and you can just discard the stalks at the end.  Add the bundle to the pan with the garlic and fry for a minute or so until aromatic.  Add the mushrooms, fry until soft and then pour in the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to get all the little bits of flavour off the bottom.  Reduce the wine by about half and then add the stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and season with salt and pepper.  Stir well to combine before returning the meat to the pan, juices and all.  Cover the mixture with a sheet of baking paper, allowing it to rest on top and tucking the sides in.  Place a lid on, return to the boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 21/2 hours, stirring periodically.

The Ragu is ready when the meat falls apart when pried apart with two forks.  Remove the lid and paper and using two forks, gently pull the meat apart so you have nice stringy bits of meat as opposed to large chunks.  This will allow you to get a little meat with each mouthful and will also help to thicken the sauce.  Reduce for approximately 10 minutes and then stir through the parsley, just before serving.

Cook the orecchiette in a large pot of salted boiling water for approximately 12 minutes or until tender but with a slightly firm bite to it.  The best way to detect this is to taste!  Give it a stir periodically to prevent it sticking together.  Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, toss well to combine.

Divide the pasta among serving bowls and top with a good sprinkling of fresh parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

*  Orecchiette pasta is found in supermarkets and gourmet food shops.  I used the Woolworths gold brand and it was really good!