An Umbrian Rural Recipe: il Sugo del Contadino
In the years we worked the land in Umbria, the stamina of the farm women astounded me. Not only did they work the land with the men, before heading to the fields they rapidly prepared abundant multi-course meals for lunchtime for numerous farmhands. “Il sugo del contadino” (“the farmer’s sauce,” though it should be called “the farmwoman’s sauce”) was always a harvest-time favorite. Lots of hands would join in on the haying, on wheat harvests, on the grape and olive harvests so a hardy meal needed and of course, a tasty one (you’re feeding Italians!). And this dish can be prepared rapidly, freeing up the hosting farm woman to join in the farm tasks at hand.
Not only: this sauce is both primo and secondo: pasta with the sauce first and then the meats as main course.
Years ago, my farm woman friends would use whatever meats they had available to butcher: meats used were generally sausages (their own), chicken (even the heads, feet used to add flavor to the sauce), perhaps a bit of stew beef (though that was a “luxury” item), beef bones (which the butcher would give you for free).
Nowadays, with il benessere (“well-being”, i.e., a better income), Peppa and other farm friends make the sauce like this (note: this will vary, house to house and quantities here – as in any Italian dish – are approximate):
Il Sugo del Contadino
Ingredients (for 5 – 6)
- stewing beef in large chunks – about a pound
- a couple chicken wings, 2 thighs, a back or two, neck, head (if you wish)
- beef bones
- Umbrian sausages, 5 to 6 optional (and if you can’t get Umbrian ones, just use about 1/2 lb ground pork)
- about 1 lb. ground beef
- about 5 pork ribs
- celery stalk
- 1 onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 qts tomato sauce or 2 large cans Roma tomaotes (or some sauce, some whole tomatoes)
- olive oil, extra-virgin only – q. b. (the most common annotation in Italian recipes, ” q.b” means “quanto basta” or ” as much as you need”)
- salt, pepper q.b.
- white wine q.b.
- rigatoni or penne pasta (5 lbs for every 5 persons)
- Parmesan cheese, q. b.
Simmer the pork ribs, beef bones in white white for about 20 mins., then add beef and continue simmering. (Note: these meats are simmered first as take longer to cook). Simmer sausages a few minutes in white wine in separate pan. Add chicken pieces, ground beef, sausages to the simmered meats and also tomato sauce, celery, onion, garlic, carrot – and add about 1 c olive oil.
Simmer til all meats tender and add salt, pepper near the end of cooking. Cook pasta in abundant salted boiling water and drain, setting aside some of the pasta brodo if needed to make sauce creamier. Mix in the sauce, setting aside the meat to serve as a second course. Addition to the sauce? Add a few small meatballs to simmer when you add the chicken.
Serve pasta with generous amount of Parmesan cheese. Buon appetito!
Note: Our farm women friends often started the sauce by sautéing diced carrot, onion, celery, garlic in olive oil – creating a soffrito – but I do not, preferring not to heat olive oil up when cooking.
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