Family Recipe: Nonna Fortuna’s Ragù Sauce

This homemade ragu, passed down from mother to daughter, includes meatballs, braciole and pasta.

By: Chef Filomena Abys-Smith, A Bit of Myself

Preparing the meat for Nonna Fortuna’s Ragù Sauce, let’s start with the Meatballs:


  • 2 to 4 slices of Italian bread, crust removed and soaked in a bit of milk or water
  • 1 lb. of ground beef
  • 5 cloves of finely diced garlic
  • Finely chopped fresh parsley (you may add as much or as little as you like)
  • 2 well-beaten eggs with about 2 tbs. of Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbs. of Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on the chopped meat
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil for frying


  1. Place chopped meat into a large bowl; add the soaked bread, diced garlic, chopped parsley, eggs, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. By hand, roll the meat mixture into a meatball’s shape. I suggest making the meatballs into a small or medium size.
  2. In a large skillet, fry meatballs on all sides; they need not be cooked completely through as they will finish cooking in the sauce. Set aside on a platter.


Ingredients for preparing the Braciole:


  • 1 lb. of braciole steak (these steaks come from the center cut of the bottom, are round, and are usually less than a ¼-inch thick)
  • 4 slices of Genoa salami diced into bite-size portions
  • 4 slices of prosciutto diced into bite-size portions
  • ¼ cup of pine nuts
  • ¼ cup ofcheese such as Romano, Parmesan, fontina, or a combination of all three cheeses diced into tiny bite pieces
  • ¼ cup of finely chopped parsley
  • Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Salt and pepper the steaks on both sides; in the middle of each steak, add bits of the salami, prosciutto, cheese, pine nuts, and parsley.
  2. Roll into a cylinder shape, tuck the ends in, and tie with a cooking string. Set aside.


Ingredients for the Ragu Sauce:


  • ¼ cup of olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 35-oz. cans of San Marzano tomatoes (crushed by hand or in a blender)
  • 1 6-oz. can of tomato paste
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • Salt and fresh basil to taste


  1. Place oil in a large stockpot; when oil is hot, add the braciole and brown on all sides. Add the onion and garlic; sauté until garlic has a bit of color. Add the tomato paste, work well into the oil, add crushed tomatoes with all the juice. Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cook over a medium-low flame for about 45 minutes, stirring often, making sure the sauce is not sticking to the bottom. Add the meatballs to the sauce with all the drippings; add shredded basil. Cook for about 35 to 45 minutes over a low flame, adding more fresh shredded basil at the end of cooking.
  3. The cooking time for ragù sauce is not so much by the clock but by being able to recognize when it’s done; the sauce should have a dense sweet flavor. Serve over your favorite cooked pasta. Often, my mom added short ribs, sausages, or pieces of pork chops to the sauce, browning these meats along with the braciole and then finishing the sauce.
  4. If you like, you can also add a small glass of white wine after the meat has browned, and after the foaming has dissipated, you can continue finishing the sauce.

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