Frances Mayes’ “Tuscan Sun” Recipe for Delicious Ragu


If you are traveling to Tuscany soon, then buonjiorno! If you’re not—most of us, right?—then the next best thing is to cook up some Tuscan deliciousness. Frances and Ed Mayes’ cookbook The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen allows you to really experience Tuscany as a participant in their Cortona, Tuscany, kitchen, serving up the warmth and essential simplicity that is Tuscan cooking.  

“If on your visit, I hand you an apron, your work will be easy. We’ll start with primo ingredients, a little flurry of activity, perhaps a glass of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and soon we’ll be carrying platters out the door. We’ll have as much fun setting the table as we have in the kitchen. Four double doors along the front of the house open to the outside—so handy for serving at a long table under the stars (or for cooling a scorched pan on the stone wall). Italian Philosophy 101: la casa aperta, the open house,” she writes. 

Here is her recipe for a Tuscan ragu sauce, a rich meat sauce to be used in lasagna or over pasta.

“Slow and easy—long-simmered ragu is the quintessential Tuscan soul food. There are as many ways with ragu as there are cooks. This is ours, learned originally from Giusi, who's made it a thousand times. By now, I think we have, too. On many Saturday mornings, Ed makes a huge pot of ragu—tripling, quadrupling the recipe—and another of tomato sauce. We consider these our natural resources. For lunch, while the pots are still on the stove, we spoon ragu over bruschetta, add some cheese, and run it under the broiler. By afternoon, we're ready to fill several glass containers of different sizes and freeze them. We're then free to pull one out during the workweek.”

 Giusi’s Ragu

Serves 10 

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound ground lean beef

1 pound ground pork

2 Italian sausages, casings removed

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

1 to 2 cups red wine

1 cup soffritto (recipe below)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

16 to 20 tomatoes or 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, juice included, chopped

Pour the olive oil into a 4-quart heavy pot with a lid. Over medium-high heat, brown the meats, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and 1 cup of the red wine. After the wine has cooked into the meat, about 10 minutes, add the soffritto, and stir in the tomato paste and tomatoes.

Bring the sauce to a boil, and then lower to a quiet simmer. Partially cover, and continue cooking for 3 hours, stirring now and then. Along the way, add the remaining cup of wine if you think the sauce is too dense. —The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen  


Serves 10

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, minced

1 carrot, minced

1 celery stalk, minced

1 handful of flat-leaf parsley, minced

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Saute the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until they begin to color and turn tender, 5 to 7 minutes.—The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen

Access Culinary Trips is a proud sponsor of the PBS Dream of Italy “Tuscan Sun” half-hour special that began airing around the country in October 2019. The show interviews author Frances Mayes and explores her adopted hometown of Cortona, which is the heart of our popular culinary trip. More information about our sumptuous 5-day culinary trip to Tuscany!