calabrian pork ragù

Despite that this recipe can probably at first glance be seen as just another pile of carbs and sauce in a bowl with a napkin, I made this particular dish for three reasons:

1. my maternal grandfather is from Calabria, land of aggressive chilis to match the aggressive tempers (but not as aggressive as Sicily) — and yet I know exactly 0 Calabrian things to cook

2. there is a restaurant I like that serves a similar dish (pork collar ragu with prosciutto, chiles, and mozzarella) that I live for and want to figure out in case it ever is taken off the menu

3. I thought doing a long slow "welcome to official fall" braise would help me feel better about the fact that the sand is plummeting from the hourglass at an astronomic rate that I'm not registering because the seasons have yet to actually change 

That said. I truly, unquestioningly believe that I am capable of anything. Except, apparently, for using sheer force of will and intense commitment to slow braises to somehow induce appropriate October weather, because it's still 102° according to the thermostat in my car. 

RECIPE

Effortful time: 30 minutes
Total time: 2 1/2 - 4 hours, all braising
Serves: 4

YOU NEED

  • 1/2 lb pork shoulder, trimmed of fat, cut into 1" cubes
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 2 oz pancetta, cubed
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup water, plus water as needed
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste (I use the double-concentrated kind in a tube, so you can save it for later)
  • 1 tbsp. anchovy paste
  • 14 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, preferably puree
  • 3 tbsp. grass-fed butter
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper (halve this if you're heat sensitive)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano reggiano, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tbsp. extremely high quality balsamic vinegar, optional
  • 16 oz. pasta of your choice, like paccheri or pappardelle*

*Note on pasta servings: this sauce freezes incredibly well, so if you want to do that, I recommend doubling the recipe (which means you'll need to do a few steps in batches, marked below). If you make it as written, I scaled it for 2 people by serving half the sauce with 8 oz. of pasta on the first night, saving the other half to reheat with freshly-cooked pasta later in the week.

MAKE IT

  1. Heat a medium dutch oven (at least 5 quarts) over medium-high heat. Add cubed pancetta and cook until browned and crispy.
  2. While the pork is browning, start your prep: trim and cube your pork shoulder, chop your onions and carrots, slice your garlic, open your cans, figure out how to open the anchovy paste tube. This helps expedite once it's time to start assembly.
  3. Remove the pancetta with slotted spoon and put into a bowl to hang out for a bit. In the pancetta fat, add the cubed pork pieces, salt and pepper them, and brown. If you're doubling, you may have to work in batches, because the cubes won't brown if they're touching. Remove and add to the pancetta bowl. 
  4. Time for the ground pork. Brown it, salting and peppering it and breaking it up with a spatula. Then add it to your growing meat bowl. Meanwhile, stir the 1 tbsp. tomato paste into the cup of water. 
  5. Vegetable time! Add the chopped carrots and onion and cook, stirring often, until soft. Add the garlic slices and cook until fragrant and softened, about 2 more minutes. Stir in the anchovy paste, oregano, parsley, and red pepper flakes.
  6. Deglaze with white wine, scraping up the meat bits. Reduce for two minutes, then add the tomato paste/water mixture and stir. Pour in the canned tomatoes and bring to a boil for one minute.
  7. Lower heat to a slow, lazy, chill simmer. You've got a lot of time here — as much as you feel like, as long as it's at least 2 hours (I did more like 4). But while you can't overcook it, you CAN burn it, so stir it every 30 minutes and try not to let it bubble too aggressively or you're going to have a bad time trying to scrub out the carbon stains.
  8. When you've got about an hour left, add the butter. This is to soften the acidity of the sauce, which is pretty sharp (fyi, I don't believe in using sugar for this, because butter works better).
  9. Stab a wide, sturdy spatula through the sauce, chopping as you go to shred any pork that hasn't fallen apart. Taste your sauce and decide if you need more salt; the pork will have added a lot early on. I didn't need any more. Put on water for pasta. 
  10. In the last few moments, stir in the parmiggiano to the sauce, which should brighten it to more of a nice burnished autumn orange tone. Stir in the balsamic, if you have it. Talking about the viscous, syrupy kind — it's better to not use it than to use the cheap, thin kind made for marinades.
  11. Drain the pasta and put back in the pan. Add as much sauce as you'd like to serve and cook for about 1 more minute to let everything meld together.
  12. Finish with more cheese, as usual. 
  13. Wine pairing: something aggressive. Maybe a chianti. You have three different pork fat products involved here. You're gonna need a big wine if you wanna keep up.