Friday, November 2, 2007

Roasted Pork Ragu with Tagliatelle

In my last post, I mentioned a great meal that Abby and I had at Lupa, one of Mario Batali's restaurants. One of the dishes was something that I made fairly often, but the other dishes, while simple, were not things that I had ever made before. They were really good, so I thought I would see if I could replicate them at home and add them to my regular rotation. The two dishes that I made, the roasted pork ragu with tagliatelle and the brussels sprouts with Pecorino, have a couple great things going for them. They are easy to make, the ingredients are fairly cheap, and in the case of the ragu, you can make up a huge batch and freeze portions for future use. I didn't have any recipes to go from, but the brussels sprouts were really really simple and there is more or less a standard way of doing things that applies to a ragu. Ragu is sort of like stir fry in the sense that there is a method of cooking and a few ingredients that form the backbone, but beyond that there are infinite variations. All this is to say that my versions turned out to be pretty good interpretations of the Lupo version.
For the brussels sprouts, you'll need the following ingredients: brussels sprouts, peccorrino cheese, pepper, olive oil, and salt(optional). Since there are so few ingredients and no cooking involved, it is really important that you emphasize quality. Get your sprouts from a place that has good produce, splurge a little on the cheese and the olive oil, and make sure the pepper is freshly, and coarsely ground. The Pecorino actually adds a bit of saltiness, but if you like more, add just a pinch of kosher salt.

To prep the sprouts, cut them in half lengthwise and then finely slice across. You should be going for something about 1/8" to 1/16". Put the shaved sprouts into a bowl and add as much freshly grated Pecorino as you like. Grind a couple turns of the pepper mill over the sprouts, drizzle with olive oil, toss, and taste. Adjust the cheese, oil, and pepper until you find a balance you like. You don't want to add to much olive oil. Just enough so that you can start to taste it, but you don't want the salad to be wet. The main function here, aside from adding a nice olive oil flavor, is to help the cheese stick to the sprouts.

The ragu is slightly more complicated, but only slightly, and while it takes a long time to cook, the actual prep time is pretty low.

2 lb pork butt, pork shoulder, or any similar cut.
1/4" slice of pancetta
2 average sized carrots
2 stalks of celery
1 large onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 large can whole San Marzano tomatoes.
2 bay leaves
~ 1 cup wine (whatever color you have on hand)
~0.5 c milk
red pepper flakes
1 small head radicchio
fresh tagliatelle

1. Preheat the oven to 350F

2. Heat up about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large dutch oven and brown the pork shoulder on all sides. You can cut it into a couple large chunks before doing this. You should let it brown on med-high to high heat on each side for a couple minutes. Resist the urge to move it around to early. Bits will stick to your pan if you mess around with the meat too early. Once it is sufficiently browned, it won't stick any more. That's one easy way to tell if something has seared long enough.

3. Chop/dice/mince the onions, celery, carrots, garlic, and pancetta. They should be about this size
You want everything to be small enough that it eventually all melts together. This is just a matter of preference though. By the time this is all done, all the flavors will be so cooked together it won't matter, so it will change texture and appearance, but probably not taste.

4. Remove the pork and add the onion/celery/carrot/garlic/pancetta mixture. Turn the heat down to medium, add a pinch of kosher salt and let everything cook down for 5 or 10 minutes.

5. Add a splash of wine to the mixture, let it cook down a little, but the pork back in the dutch oven, and place, covered, in the oven. The main purpose of adding the wine at this point is to keep all of the vegetables from scorching.

6. Open up the can of tomatoes and break apart all of the tomatoes by hand. You could just put them in a blender, but squishing them up by hand leaves little chunks that give a nice texture to the finished product.

7. After about two hours, take the dutch oven out, remove the pork, and after letting it cool, break apart. The easiest way to shred the pork is to go at it with two forks and break it apart until everything is shredded into fairly small chunks.

8. Return the shredded pork to the dutch oven, add about a half cup of milk (preferably not skim) and cook everything down. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the bay leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a pinch of salt and some black pepper.

9. Cover and simmer on the stove top for a looooong time. I let it simmer for about 7-8 hours. If you have a slow cooker, you could just throw everything in and set it on low before going to bed, it'll be done in the morning.

10. When you are ready to serve, simmer the ragu uncovered in a large skillet to help reduce the sauce.

11. Chop up some of the radicchio into square about 1" on each side.

11. Throw some fresh tagliatelle or pappardelle into a large pot of heavily salted boiling water. After about a minute, remove the pasta and add to the skillet along with a handful of radicchio (this adds a nice touch of bitterness to the otherwise rich pasta and ragu). Toss together in the skillet for a minute or two before serving. This last step helps the flavor of the sauce penetrate the pasta and should never be skipped.

A couple additional notes:
- This dish is much much better with fresh pasta. If you are going through the trouble of making this, you should go through the trouble of getting fresh pasta. In the Cambridge/Somerville area, Capone's in Union Square and Dave's in Davis Square are great options. I think Dave's is slightly better.
-Remember not to over sauce! The ragu should be an accent to the fresh pasta. The recipe above should make enough to sauce about 3 pounds of fresh pasta, which is probably enough for a dinner party of 8 or 9 and even more if this is a pasta course in a multi-course meal.

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