Pork Ragu (Plus Pasta Night)
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
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)
Pasta Maker (Attachment or the stand-alone variety)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.