I know that the beginning of June seems like the wrong time of year to be preparing a slow-cooked, hearty pasta dish. However, I was preparing this as an entry for RedEye Chicago's Virtual Kitchen Stadium 3 contest. Even though it seems more appropriate for a blustery fall or winter evening, it's still pretty delicious!
I love this kind of dish because once you've done this type of cooking a couple of times, you realize that it's really easy, doesn't require a recipe and is best-suited for the toughest and cheapest cuts of meat. Basically, you brown your meat and then set it aside. Then you saute your aromatic vegetables. You add your liquids and then tomatoes. Add back the meat and braise low and slow until it's meltingly tender and delicious. The liquids are interchangeable - wine, beer, cider, stock or water, etc. The herbs and spices can make it classically French or Moroccan or Asian.
I chose to use pork shoulder because I love it and I knew it would make for a really soul-satisfying dish. I added pancetta because another dimension of porky goodness is always welcome. You could use bacon, of course, but I think the unsmoked flavor of pancetta really allows the sweet pork flavor to really shine. Also, I would highly recommend that you use a fresh pasta for this. There's something about the softness of a fresh pasta that really pairs well with this type of sauce. You can buy fresh pasta in any major grocery store these days, so if you're going to take the time to make this, please try it with a fresh pasta, preferably a nice wide noodle.
I made this on a Sunday afternoon. We had already planned to go out for dinner as a family that night so I knew I was making this for another meal later in the week. However, since I had to plate it in order to take a picture, the family got to give it a little taste-test. My soon-to-be-six-year-old loved it! In fact, he was disappointed he could only eat a couple of bites since we were heading out to dinner shortly!
FETTUCINE WITH RAGU OF PORK AND RICOTTA CHEESE
Ingredients: 2.5 lbs of pork shoulder cut into 2-inch chunks and trimmed of large fat, 3 oz of diced pancetta, 1 large diced onion, 1 large diced carrot, 2 diced ribs of celery, 4 cloves of minced garlic, 1-28 on can of whole peeled tomatoes with their liquid, 2 cups of red wine, 3 bay leaves, salt, pepper, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, olive oil, 1 lb of fresh fettucine/tagliatelle/pappardelle
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- Season pork with salt and pepper.
- In a large dutch oven, add enough olive oil to film the bottom of the pan. Heat the pan on high until it begins to smoke.
- Add the pieces of pork in a single layer without overcrowding the pan. Brown the pieces on all sides. You may need to brown the pork in batches.
- Remove browned pork and set aside in a bowl.
- Add diced pancetta and begin to render and crisp slightly.
- Add the diced onions, carrots and celery until tender. About 5-8 minutes.
- Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
- Add the wine cook for a few minutes until most of the alcohol burns off.
- Add the can of tomatoes along with the juices. Use your spoon to break up the tomatoes a bit. They will break down during the cooking process.
- Season the liquid with salt & pepper to taste.
- Add bay leaves.
- Add back the pork into the pan along with any juices that have accumulated.
- The level of the liquid should come right up to the top of the pork. The pork does not need to be completely submerged. If you need a bit more liquid, just add a bit of water.
- Bring the pot back to the boil. Then cover and slide into the oven.
- Check the pork after about 1.5 hours. The pork should begin to fall apart when squeezed with a pair of tongs or a fork. If it's still pretty firm, cook for another half hour to an hour.
- When the pork is fall-apart tender, remove from the oven and using a pair of tongs or a fork, shred and break up the meat in the pot. Then stir it all together in the sauce.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a big dose of salt and cook your pasta.
- Place the cooked pasta in a large bowl and the sauce to the noodles. The noodles should be dressed with the sauce, not swimming in it.
- Plate each portion of pasta and then add a nice dollop of ricotta cheese on top.
- Drizzle the plate with a little extra virgin olive oil and shower it with parmesan cheese.