Pork Ragu

Pici

Sorry to have kept you waiting a while for this recipe.  I’ve just been a bit busy.  But better late than never, yes?  So, the ragu I made to go with my heretic pasta the other night was made with pork, because, as I said before, why offend only one religion when you can do three at once.  Ha.

The recipe came from Paul Bertoli’s amazing book, Cooking by Hand. This is not a book for the faint of heart, I should warn you.  The Ragù alla Bolognese recipe alone is over 1,500 words–but who am I to complain about long winded treatise on a traditional dish, you’ve seen my Pad Thai recipe, right?

The recipe calls for beef, ground chuck, skirt, or hanger steak to be precise, but I made it with ground pork butt instead, because my friend Beccy doesn’t eat beef.  (Yeah, you can choose your friends but you sure can’t choose what they eat!)

So, here’s my slightly bastardized version of Paul Bertoli’s Ragù alla Bolognese.  Hey, if you want the real thing you could always go buy the book.

  • 3 pounds pork
  • 3.5oz pancetta, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • a few sage leafs
  • 3 oz tomato paste
  • 6 cups of meat broth (water will do in a pinch, really)

You start by browning the meat.  Heat a large pot (I used my 8qt. Dutch Oven) over high heat, add a little oil, then spread the ground pork over the surface of the pot and brown it quickly of both sides.  I found that doing this with half the batch of meat at a time allows the meat to brown up quickly and not overcooked by the time it’s done browning.  So if you do a half batch, spread half the pork over the surface of the pan and let brown, then flip it to the other side.  Once brown on both sides, remove the first half of the pork.  Let the pot stand to heat back up a bit, then add the other half of the meat and brown it up the same way.

Ragu1

Return the first half of the pork back to the pot, lower the heat to medium, break up the brown pork into chunks.  Add the pancetta and stir to mix well.  Cut the butter into a few pieces and spread them over the top of the meat.  Let melt for a few seconds, then stir well to mix.

Ragu2

Add the celery, carrots, and onion, give it a stir and let the vegetables sweat with the meat for about 15 minutes.  Add the sage leafs.  Turn the heat down a bit if it looks like things are cooking up too quickly.  While the vegetables and meat are cooking, heat up the meat broth or water in a medium pot.

Ragu3

After 15 minutes, add the tomato paste to the meat/veg mix.  (You don’t have to weigh it really, I just use roughly 2/3 of my 4.5oz tube.)  Stir to mix and let cook another 5 minutes.

Add about 1 cup of broth or water to the ragu pot, stir to mix well.  Let the meat absorb the liquid until almost dry, then add 1/2 cup more, and let the meat absorb it again.  Continue adding 1/2 cup at a time, and let the meat absorb the liquid before adding more, until you’ve used up about 3 cups (or half the amount) of the broth.

Lower the heat to simmer and add the rest of the broth.  Let the ragu cook for at least an hour, until the liquid reduces to the consistency you like and the meat soften.  Add water (or more broth) if the liquid in the ragu evaporates too quickly.  I’d add a little salt here too if your broth doesn’t have salt (or if you use water.)

When the ragu is cooked properly.  Check the seasoning.  You might need to add a bit more salt.  I like to add a little splash of sherry vinegar (or young balsamic vinegar) just to round up the flavor a bit.  Add a little pepper if you’d like.

Serve the ragu with freshly made pasta, preferably Strozzapreti or Pici.

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  • http://www.gastroanthropology.com gastroanthropologist

    I love how meaty this sauce is…so many meat sauces are too tomato-y. Looks delicious!

  • http://whatilikenyc.blogspot.com Laura

    Finally! And worth the wait, looks great, and very very comforting. The River Cafe Cookbook also has an excellent recipe along these lines called penne with slow cooked sausage sauce (or something like that). The cream that they have you add at the end really just puts it over the top (in a good way!).

  • http://bring-your-appetite.blogspot.com Jessica D

    Mmm, there’s nothing like a good ragu. I’ll bet that the pork makes it really nice and juicy.

  • http://www.seattlesoupline.blogspot.com Jenifer

    This sounds good and not nearly as hard as it could be. I saw Emeril make a Duck Ragu the other day that looked ridiculously delicious but a lot of work. I’m seeking a good Asian/American pulled pork recipe to serve on Chinese buns with a spicy slaw. If anybody has something like that let me know. Thanks!

  • http://winefoodandbeyond.blogspot.com/ Wolfy

    Pim, nice recipe. If you want to make it more “authentic”, you might want to use extra-virgin olive oil instead of butter, prosciutto crudo instead of pancetta, and use a glass of white wine to start braising the meat and vegetables (and use broth or salted water, eventually).

  • http://lickmyspoon.com/ Lick My Spoon

    Nothing like a homemade pasta dish to feed the soul. I agree with gastroanthropologist; I love how meaty it the sauce is too. Thanks for another great recipe Pim. It was definitely worth the wait. I hope you don’t get too swamped in the New year! ^_^

  • http://www.honest-food.net Hank

    Ah, Wolfy, you tread dangerous ground when speaking of an “authentic” ragu or Bolognese or sugo: These are idiosyncratic dishes with as many variations as cooks, and long, long articles have been written (Art of Eating, Saveur, Clifford Wright, et al) about what is an is not “authentic.” It’s a little like saying this or that is THE authentic recipe for chili…
    I use oil and soppressata sometimes for a southern feel, but butter and pancetta is pretty common in the far north of Italy. White wine or red wine is a cook’s choice; I vary it with the seasons — white wine in spring and early fall, red in colder months. As for broth, yep, I always use it instead of water for a ragu.
    And Jenifer: If you have the duck available, making a sugo or ragu from duck isn’t any tougher than using pork and beef — just switch out in Pim’s recipe and you’ll be fine.

  • http://winefoodandbeyond.blogspot.com/ Wolfy

    Hank, thanks for replying to my little post. I don’t want to introduce myself or repeat the same things every time but I also understand that without context my notes might be misinterpreted. I’m from Italy (Milano, precisely, even though I’ve traveled extensively in Italy and most Europe), my sister-in-law is from Felina, a small town near Parma (in Emilia Romagna). Of course, she has her own recipes for ragù, tortellini, agnolotti, … handed down by her mother, grandmother and so on. I’m not a strenuous defender of authenticity in food, whatever authentic means, and I don’t judge people if they take a recipe and twist it to their own taste. So my post was just a list of hints: try them and judge by yourself.
    That said, when I study a foreign country’s cuisine, I try to read somebody local (i.e., for French cuisine I read Careme, Escoffier, Alain Ducasse, …). For Italian traditional recipes, I wholeheartedly recommend Gualtiero Marchesi’s “La Cucina Regionale Italiana”. Gualtiero Marchesi is one of the greatest Italian chefs of all time and his book is the result of a monumental amount of work. Then I would encourage everybody to take his recipes, test them, then change and twist them as one likes. I, for sure, won’t judge anybody for that.

  • http://www.honest-food.net Hank

    Ah, Milan, eh? Then you would definitely know your way around a ragu! I’ve read quite a lot about Italian food in books written by Italians (my own background is among the Sicilian-Americans of New Jersey), and I’ll be sure to add Gualtiero Marchesi to my list of must-reads. Thanks for the tip!

  • http://gardensolar.blogspot.com Garden Solar

    Wow that ragu looks delicious, i’m gonna try cooking that tonight now haha. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • http://tinfoilchef.com recipe blog

    I’ll tell ya what.. “authentic” or not, that looks just plain good!
    This from a guy that doesn’t usually do much in the way of pork! (though I’m tempted to try it with ground turkey)

  • Andrew

    This was entirely worth the wait. Being a broke, mildly lazy, college student, I just used bacon, and though a little on the salty side, was definitely still good.
    My roommates all know your name in my house because they know who to thank for the good meals our kitchen produces!

  • http://profile.typepad.com/pim Pim

    My thoughts exactly. I don’t like tomato-y meat sauce, if I wanted a tomato sauce I wouldn’t add meat at all.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/pim Pim

    You’re welcome. My New Year resolution is to blog more, so hopefully I stick with it.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/pim Pim

    Thanks for the book recommendation. Do you know if it’s published in English as well?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/pim Pim

    That’s so sweet, thanks! Your roommates are lucky.

  • http://britinbangkok.typepad.com Fabletoo

    That sounds heavenly. I have to try it :-)

  • http://www.williepee.com sevendogs3cats@yahoo.com

    Nice recipe and photographs. Very nice blog. I will follow with much pleasure! -Bill (making a ragu as we speak)

  • Eric

    I’m very new to your blog site – say about 5 minutes old. I like it. Thanks for your being out there for us foodies. I look forward to reading (and learning) more from your site.
    Eric Thomas
    Nottingham
    England

  • http://www.them-apples.co.uk them apples

    A ragu is something that needs a lot of care and attention. The difference between a poor ragu and a stellar one is usually down to the length of time it’s allowed to bubble away by itself. Some of the best sauces I’ve made have sat on the hob for entire afternoons, filling the house with the smell of Italy and making the kids feel very hungry.
    Good call on the balsamic vinegar at the end – it really cuts through the richness of a dish like this and give it, well, a bit of real class.

  • ND

    Hi, I’ve been reading your blog for a while now—great writing, and awesome photos! I just have to say, though (with tongue firmly in cheek), that for someone who is so vehemently outspoken against the abuse of Eastern culinary orthodoxy by folks like poor old Jamie Oliver and Martin Yan, you’re certainly taking a lot of chances with His Majesty the Ragú! Your version sounds great, though (and definitely way, way faster than an authentic Bolognese Ragú).

  • jan m martin

    Big disagreement at my house about degreasing the pan after cooking the meat. I think it needs to be degreased so that the flavors come from the mixture of the other ingredients and it isn’t too oily. My boyfriend thinks that the meat fat is part of the flavor of a bolognese. I have never seen a direction to degrease in any recipes. What do you think?

  • Kurt G

    Hard part is waiting the hour for it to cook… Thanks for the recipe.

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    No, you made me hungry again! This ragu looks really delicious and it’s not as complicated as I thought, I must try it myself!

  • http://chocolatecoveredeverything.wordpress.com/ Aleah

    YUM! This looks amazing! I am definitely going to make this very very soon! Looks like a great dish for a cool fall evening! Thanks Chez!

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  • SusanT

    Just finished making this.  Thanks for the great recipe! I omitted the pancetta because I was too lazy to go to the store but it was still delicious.  We also like things spicy here so i added cayenne and garlic. YUM :) I’m trying this again with pancetta next time.