My uncle, who is an Afrikaner and therefore really knows his meat, always taught me that good oxtail needs a lot of onion. You could tell he knew about meat, because at our family braais on Sundays he wore short shorts and navy blue socks pulled up to his knees. This, along with the squeegee bottle used solely for the dousing of a wayward flame on the braai is, as far as I know, the actual kit handed out to all graduates of whatever meat connoisseur academy these people graduate from. So this might seem like a lot of onion to use in one recipe. It is. But trust him. This is one of those recipes born from a need to find a use for a bag of huge pasta shells and a bit of Parmesan that’s being sitting in the freezer for 6 months. For best results, cook the ragu a day in advance. This makes about two portions of meat. Freeze half and use in anything that requires a Bolognaise sauce.
Oxtail Ragu Stuffed Pasta Shells in Parmesan Cream
4 hours 40 mins
Recipe type: Main
- For the ragu:
- Roughly 1kg oxtail
- 800g minced beef
- 4 large onions, chopped
- 5ml coriander (the brown ground up stuff, not the green, chopped stuff. 5ml of coriander leaves would be a total waste of time.)
- 5ml cumin
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 250ml red wine
- 250ml beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 10ml dried origanum (you’re going to boil this for hours, so it’s really not worth the effort of washing a mezzaluna for the fresh stuff)
- 50g tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon of plum jam (or plub jab for those with sinus problems)
- For the Parmesan Cream:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 level tablespoons flour
- 3ml coriander
- 400ml milk
- 250ml cream
- 50g Parmesan, grated
- In a large, cast iron pot, brown the oxtail.
- Scoop the oxtail into a dish and add the mince to the pot to brown.
- Scoop the mince out and add the onion to the pot. Sauté over a low heat until they’re slightly caramelised. It shouldn’t be necessary to add oil as the meat should give off enough fat.
- Add the garlic and fry for a further 2 minutes.
- Add the cumin and coriander, stir through and cook for a further minute or two.
- Add the meat and any juices that have collected to the pot.
- Add the tomatoes, stock, wine, bay leaf, herbs and tomato paste. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the oxtail, shred the meat from the bones and return to the pot. (The meat, not the bones. Give the bones to the dogs. After you’ve nibbled on them – it’s the best bit really).
- At this point, if there is too much liquid in the sauce, turn the heat up and reduce. You want a fair amount of liquid, but not too much. Sort of like the length of a piece of string.
- Adjust the seasoning. If the tomatoes were a bit too acidic, or the onions haven’t added enough sweetness, add a tablespoon of plum jam.
- For the Parmesan Cream:
- Melt the butter, add the flour and stir. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the coriander and cook for a further minute.
- Add the milk and stir till smooth. I heat my milk before adding it. Makes it easier to get a smooth sauce. If at this point you have made the type of lumpy white sauce that would get you a D in Home Ec. then don’t panic. Just take a whisk to it and the lumps will come out.
- Add the cream and stir in the Parmesan cheese.
- Adjust the seasoning. This should be a fairly thin sauce as the pasta is going to slurp up a lot of the liquid.
- To assemble:
- Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
- Pour the Parmesan cream into a dish just large enough to accommodate all the shells cheek to jowl. You’ll need around 28 of the large Delverde Conchiglioni No.240 shells. (Available in George at Checkers, York Street.)
- Place spoons full of the meat sauce in the shells and arrange in the dish on the sauce. The shells must be completely filled – if you leave a gap at the top it won’t cook through.
- Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Check after the first twenty minutes to ensure that all the shells are covered with sauce. If any bits are sticking out, either push them back under the sauce or add a little more milk if it’s looking too dry.
- Remove from the oven, allow to stand, covered, for 5 minutes and serve.