Braised Oxtail Ragù with Semolina Gnocchi

Semolina gnocchi with oxtail ragu

Oxtail ragù is a speciality dish of Rome and is frequently paired with semolina gnocchi, also a Roman speciality. Italians use the word “coda”, which means “tail,” to refer to oxtails. Italians also refer to a traffic jam as a “coda”, which translates as “queue”— a “tail” of traffic going off into the distance!120px-Italian_traffic_signs_-_Coda.svg

You can use this oxtail ragù recipe with other types of pasta (traditionally short pasta), but I’m showing the most traditional Roman dish here, which uses semolina gnocchi. These gnocchi have little in common with traditional potato or ricotta gnocchi, except that they are also little dumplings. “Gnocchi” may have come from an Italian word meaning knot in wood or knuckle, which would explain it as a reference to the shape and size.

This recipe serves 4.

Oxtail Ragù – Ingredients and Directions:

  • 2 ½ pounds of beef oxtails
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1 medium onion, medium chop
  • 1 carrot, medium chop
  • 2 celery stalks, medium chop
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 3 tomatoes plus a little purée from a can of good quality San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 quart good-quality beef broth
  • A bundle of herbs: 1 sprig of rosemary, 6 or so parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf tied with kitchen string
  • A cheesecloth bundle including: a few black peppercorns and 1 smashed garlic clove, closed with kitchen string

Raw oxtails are not very attractive
Raw oxtails are not very attractive

Special equipment:

  • A medium-size dutch oven
  • Sheet pans
  • Kitchen tongs
  • Potato masher or firm slotted spatula
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Rinse the oxtails under water and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange the oxtails on one of the sheet pans and liberally sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Place 1 cup of flour in a bowl.
  4. Add a scant amount of olive oil to the dutch oven and heat on the stove over medium heat.
  5. In batches, starting with the larger oxtails, place them one at a time in the bowl of flour and toss to coat. Tap off the excess flour and place in the dutch oven. Arrange in one layer and don’t overcrowd.
  6. Using tongs, sear all sides of the oxtail in batches; remove each batch to the sheet pan when browned. Continue in batches until all the oxtails are seared and removed. Discard any unused flour and wipe out the dutch oven with a paper towel.
  7. Add another thin film of olive oil to the dutch oven, still on medium heat. Add the chopped onion, carrots and celery and sauté until soft, about 5-7 minutes.
  8. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, then add the tomatoes, breaking them up with your hands. Add the broth and stir.
  9. Add the oxtails back to the dutch oven and then the herb bundles. The oxtails should be submerged. If not, add a little water to cover.
  10. Place in the oven and braise for about 2 ½ hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Using the tongs, remove the oxtails to a clean sheet pan until they are cool enough to handle. Discard the herb bundles.
  11. Using a potato masher or slotted spatula, smash the vegetables that remain in the dutch oven.
  12. Using your hands, remove and shred the meat from the oxtails and place in the sauce. Stir to combine and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Semolina Gnocchi and Assembly – Ingredients and Directions:

  • 3 cups milk
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 cup semolina flour (a yellow, coarse flour used for making pastas)
  • 4 egg yolks (reserve the whites for another use)
  • 1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese (1 cup for gnocchi dough, ½ cup for sprinkling over finished product)

Special equipment:

  • A sieve with holes large enough to let the semolina pass through.
  • A smooth, clean stone countertop or block, or a sheet pan to use as a work surface
  • Rolling pin or flat spatula
  • 2-inch ring mold
  • Sheet pan
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, combine the milk, butter and salt and stir until the butter is melted.
  2. Sift the semolina into the hot milk mixture and stir as you do. Stir the mixture until its very stiff and “burping” like cooking oatmeal or polenta.
  3. Remove from heat and add the egg yolks one at a time; stir between each addition to fully incorporate. Then add 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Stir to fully combine.
  4. Place the pot back on the stove over low heat and stir for 2 minutes. The dough should NOT be sticky.
  5. Turn out the dough on the work surface. Using a rolling pin or flat spatula, smooth out the dough into a circle about ½-inch thick. Allow the dough to cool completely.
  6. Using the ring mold, cut out as many circles as possible, removing them to a sheet pan. Partial circles are fine. Discard the leftover dough.
  7. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Arrange the gnocchi circle in a slightly overlapping pattern in a baking dish. Ladle the oxtail ragù over the gnoochi and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese.
  8. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the ragù is bubbling and the cheese has melted. Serve 3 or 4 gnocchi per person passing extra cheese for sprinkling.

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