Pork Ragú

I had this velvety meat sauce a while back at an Italian restaurant and knew immediately that I needed to figure out how to make it at home. But months pass, and I kinda forgot about it. Then Chris over at Nibble Me This posted about a similar dish, Milk Braised Pork, and I am inspired.

Ragù alla Bolognese is a (lotsa) meat and (not so much) tomato-based sauce originating in Bologna, Italy. By simmering ground and cubed meat in tomatoes, wine, stock and milk for a long time the meat softens and begins to break down into the sauce. It takes some time to make, but the results are so much more than worth it.

4 pounds pork butt, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground sweet Italian pork sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Italian herb mix (I used Penzey’s mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, thyme and rosemary)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup  chicken stock
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 pound pasta (Mrs. Leeper’s gluten-free corn pasta)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Season the cubed pork butt with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large, oven-safe pan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork butt, about 3-5 minutes a side. Remove the browned pieces to a large bowl and add the sausage to the pan. Crumble and cook until it is just no longer pink, about 10 minutes.

Add onion and garlic to the sausage and cook until the onion is soft and the sausage has started to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, browned pork butt, and any juices from the bowl. Stir well and cover the pan. Cook until the tomatoes have started to break down, about 10 minutes

Uncover and stir in the herbs, red pepper, and milk. Let mixture come to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the milk combines with the tomatoes and starts to soften the meat, 40-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Stir in the wine and stock and bring the pan back to simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, and pork butt cubes have completely fallen apart, about 3 hours. If the sauce starts to dry out before the meat is tender, add a little more stock or water and continue cooking. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Cook pasta according to the directions on the package and drain. Return the pasta to the pan you cooked it in and add a couple of scoops of the ragú, toss well to wet the pasta.

Serve the pasta topped with more ragú and some grated Parmesan.

The Verdict: ★★★★☆
The sauce was almost everything I had hoped it would be – rich and meaty with just enough canned tomato to add some sweetness and help pull the flavors together.

The 4 stars is for all the things I plan to do to improve the sauce.  Next time Ill try a little spicier sausage, maybe half sweet and half hot. Some of the recipes I saw called for the classic Italian soffritto of diced celery and carrot in addition to the onion and I think this would make the sauce even more complex. Also, I’d cut the pork butt into smaller cubes, probably an inch or less to make the sauce smoother.  Last, but not least, I’d serve it like I had it in the restaurant – over a bed of polenta.

P.S. This recipe makes a ton of sauce, almost a triple batch, which is fine because it freezes well and the only thing better than ragú sauce the first night is more ragú sauce the next night ;).

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