Cooking With Confidence
Pasta night
Main Dishes, Pasta, Pork

Pork Ragu (Plus Pasta Night)

by Nick

Betsy and I leave for Italy in about two weeks for our delayed honeymoon and I’m shaking with excitement. I have just a few things I need to take care of before we leave including:

1) Getting an international driver’s license (we are renting a car for a few days)

2) Learning some basic Italian phrases like, “Can I please have some more of the MEAT?”

3) Growing a beard.

A few weeks ago I hosted a pasta night (kind of like Taco Night except with, well, pasta). This gave me a small, and probably worse, taste of what I expect to have a lot of in Italy. I had some people over and made a few batches of fresh pasta and simmered an all-day ragu. There’s not much that beats homemade pasta and a big pot of really good meat sauce.

Yield
Serves 8-10

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Pork Ragu

Ingredients

  • 2.5 pounds boneless pork butt
  • 8 ounces bacon or pancetta
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28 ounce can stewed tomatoes
  • 2 Cups water
  • 1 cup white wine (you could use red, but I used white for this and really liked it)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon cinnamon (trust me)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Basic Pasta Recipe (From How to Cook Everything)
  • 2 Cups flour (all-purpose flour, Semolina flour, etc.)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt (or 1 Teaspoon kosher salt)

Helpful Equipment

Directions

1) Cut pork butt into 1 inch cubes and trim off fat if you want (I leave it on)

2) In a large heavy pot, brown the pork pieces over high heat for a few minutes a side.  Work in batches to make sure the pot stays hot and the meat browns nicely.  Remove the pork pieces and set aside.

3) Add chopped bacon or pancetta to pork drippings and cook over medium-high heat until browned.

4) Add veggies and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.

5) Deglaze the pan with wine (I used white wine) and scrape up any pieces stuck to the bottom.

6) Add pork pieces back to along with tomatoes (if you get whole tomatoes, mush them up when you add them), water, and spices.  The liquid should barely cover the pork.

7) Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, for 3 hours.

8) Remove the lid and simmer for another 60-90 minutes.

9) Test a piece of pork to make sure it's extremely tender.  If it is, use a fork or wooden spoon to roughly shred the pork in the pot.  If it isn't tender enough to easily shred, cook for another 30 minutes.

10) Once it has reduced down to a thick sauce, add cooked pasta and taste for salt and pepper.

11) Stir together and serve immediately with crusty bread and parmesan cheese.

The Ragu

I don’t make a lot of slow-cooked meat sauces here on Macheesmo but sometimes there’s nothing better. The thing that I don’t normally do is just toss a bunch of ground meat in with tomato sauce and call it good. We can do better.

So much better.

This is one of those recipes of love that requires a bit of time but is very flexible ingredient-wise and very low maintenance actually.

Start with a boneless pork butt and chop it into about 1 inch chunks. I like leaving on most of the fat because it melts down as it simmer and makes the sauce really flavorful. You could trim it off though if it bothers you.

pork butt

You could trim off some of that fat… but WHY?

Get a large heavy pot (cast iron works great if you have one but you can use anything really) going over high heat and once it’s hot, add your pork pieces in batches. Brown them evenly on each side. Don’t be afraid if a little smoke happens.

This is probably the most important part of the recipe. Making sure all the pork is nice and browned is pretty key. As the pieces brown, pull them out onto a plate until they are all done.

browned meat

The start of something wonderful.

This is important because the meat caramelizes a bit but also because you end up with what some people consider garbage but I consider to be liquid deliciousness.

pot

Liquid flavor.

You would have to be insane to throw this stuff away.

Instead what you want to do is add some bacon to it and let it brown over medium-high heat and then add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic and a pinch of salt.

This will start to smell really really good.

other stuff

Bacon and veggies…

Once the veggies are soft, add the wine and it will hiss and steam. Use the wine to scrape up any little bits of food stuck to the bottom.

Then add all your pork pieces back into the pot along with the stewed tomatoes, water, and spices.

Simmer this, covered, for about 3 hours.

We’re not done.

Then simmer it for about 2 more hours with the lid off to get the liquid reducing.

Next, take out a piece of pork and try to pull it apart. If it doesn’t fall apart then cook it longer. It’s almost impossible to overcook this so don’t worry about that. Once the pork is tender just kind of mush up the pieces so they shred apart some.

This was mine after about 3 hours of simmering covered.

ragu

Slow food is good food.

So basically what I’m telling you is that if you want to eat at 7PM you should probably be cutting up your pork and chopping your vegetables at 1PM. That might sound insane, but it’s mostly unattended simmering, and trust me the results are worth the mild disturbance of having to start a dish 6 hours before you can eat it.

The Pasta

I always get very nervous when I write about homemade pasta because, frankly, I’m not very good at it and mostly just wing it.

But, honestly, it always tastes good. So I figure I must be doing something right even if it isn’t the prettiest thing in the world.

On this night, some of my guests wanted to learn how to make pasta from scratch so I did my best to show them how to make a well with the flour and crack in the eggs…

well

The pasta well!

And then I showed them how you get impatient and the eggs flow all over the table and you end up with a huge mess.

Then I showed them how to curse and push flour and eggs around on my counter until eventually you end up with this very hard ball of dough that you knead for 10 minutes or so.

semolina

Semolina is hard work.

The nice thing about pasta is that there’s a pretty way to do it and a messy way to do it and both, as far as I can tell, result in the same finished product which takes off some of the stress of the situation.

Anyway, after you knead the dough for about 10 minutes or so (it’ll be really hard especially if you’re using semolina), wrap the dough in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out and let it sit for an hour or so to relax a bit.

Then bust out the pasta roller (or roll it by hand if you really want a workout like I did in my first homemade pasta post which by the way has some excellent photos of the pasta making mess).

When you’re ready to make the pasta, follow the directions for your pasta machine. This will probably involve putting it through a few times on the widest setting and then once you have a smooth sheet you can start going down a step at a time.

The good thing about dinner guests is you can put them to work while you take a photo.

making pasta

This isn’t so bad…

Once you have a sheet, you can cut it into linguine or mix some ricotta with lemon zest and fresh lemon juice for an excellent ravioli filling.

I used 1 pound of ricotta with the zest and juice from 2 lemons along with a pinch of salt and it was really perfect.

making ravs

Not bad.

My ravioli forming process is okay, but not perfectly. Mine tasted really good but they were a bit large I think.

I don’t have one of the ravioli shaper things so I just used my hands and a knife to seal them off with some water around the edges and cut them into squares.

Once they were shaped, I simmered them in salted water for a few minutes until they floated and then tossed them with some melted butter and sage.

They were very delicious even if they weren’t the prettiest thing in the world.

raviolis

some butter helps.

I used my all-purpose flour pasta for the ravioli and the semolina flour batch I made for the pork ragu.

I just sliced up all the pasta I made into ribbons, boiled it in salted water and then transferred it right away to my pork ragu pot which has reduced substantially.

A quick stir and it was ready to serve.

all mixed up

Finished ragu.

I of course served it with some good Parmesan cheese and my roasted garlic bread from yesterday.

It was some of the best pasta I’ve had but I doubt that lasts for even a month given my upcoming travel schedule.

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19 comments on “Pork Ragu (Plus Pasta Night)

  1. oh my word Nick – ITALY!!! I have the best memories of food in Italy – I am soooo jealous! I vowed to go back one day. This looks divine, we love making our own pasta and often invite friends to participate in the fun of making it!

  2. Ma-cheese: we're totally supposed to curse and swear about the flour well and egg method that always erupts into a messy volcano and tidal wave of egg/flour mess across your counter, right?

    Once I got so frustrated that I put the flour in a big bowl, poured the eggs in the well then used the fok to mix it in. When the flour and eggs were in the bowl, they behaved. When it was all mixed together I dumped it on the counter for kneading. It made no difference in the dough and my audience thought me a much more relaxed, less offensive person. So now, I always do it like this.

    Completely jealous of your Italy trip! But have a blast. Take lots of pics. And I had no idea one needed an international license. Thanks for that tip. I thought you could just, well, rent and drive wherever!!

  3. Several comments:

    1: That looks fabulous.

    2. Anyone who calls the "fond" that results from browning meat "garbage" doesn't deserve to eat.

    3. The Italian words I know are from singing in choruses and cooking. So the only time I ever drove in Rome and saw the words "senso unico" at the entrance to a street I ignored the sign and turned into the street. Only when I heard people yelling "Basta!" and shaking their fists at us did I realize "senso unico" means "one way." Duh.

    4. Have a fabulous time! I hope you're going to Positano. It's heaven on earth.

  4. Yay hooray for Italy! I didn't know that's where you were going! Mostly you need to know the word "prego," which is basically excuse me, you're welcome, pardon me, and all of that. It's approximately the most polite word in the language.

    Where are you going in Italy? I was an Italian Studies major and an Italy-specific travel agent for while after college- it's sounds like you've got it thoroughly planned, but feel free to email me if you have any questions :)

    1. We are going all around… starting in Rome then up to Florence. Then driving down to Positano, then back to rome along the coast.

      Should be awesome :)

  5. Give us the scoop when you return. I dream of going to Italy with my hub (after 33 years of wedded bliss), but I want to go to those 'out of the way' places which are beautiful and gastronimically blissful.

  6. What a wonderful meal! I love making homemade pasta.

    Lucky you to be heading to Italy. We drove in Italy without an International Driver's License. Maybe requirements have changed in the last few years? You're going to have a wonderful time. Avoid driving through Milan… we sat through hours of stopped traffic in that city at all times of the day. Awful, and ugly too!

  7. I see all the comments about Italy – but nothing about this recipe! I won't be making my own pasta unless I get a wild hair and go out and buy a pasta attachment (it could happen) but the pork ragu will be on my table this Sunday.

  8. I made the ragu on Sunday – served it with purchased pasta though. It was very good! Had enough left over to freeze for another dinner. I'm thinking it might be great over polenta.

  9. Hi there! I made the ragu on Sunday and I was surprised at the mildly sweet flavor of the pork. In many ways, it surpassed the bolognese sauces I've had in the past. Did you adapt from a recipe or just go by instinct?

    There was so much delicious food leftover that I had to invite two friends over tonight to help me finish it. Great, easy recipe. I love one pot meals and the comfort food is perfect for fall weather.

    1. Nah… no recipe really. Just kind of tasted as I went and adjusted.

      The basics of it are like a thousand other meat sauce recipes though.

  10. I made this for my husband and in-laws, and now they think I am a culinary MASTER! Even though it had to cook for a long time, it was simple to make and absolutely DELICIOUS! Thank you, Nick! I am now a loyal reader! (I've also made your cinnamon rolls, which were to die for!) I look forward to your post every day, keep them coming!

  11. This is one of my favorite recipes on this blog! I am making this for dinner tonight per the request of my husband. I will be serving it up over a creamy polenta. Thanks for the recipe, Nick!

  12. Thank you so much for posting this recipe!! I found it completely by accident, and it is amazing! My pork was very tough so it was actually baked in an oven before it was cut off the bone. The time spent was so worth it!! It reminded me of delicious pork ragu that I ate at a fancy Italian restaurant in NYC years ago. The seasoning was perfect.

    1. Excellent Elena! After five years of food blogging this is still my most requested recipe with the in-laws which is a good measuring post for recipes I feel like. Cheers! Nick

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