This is the dish I fixed earlier in the week. The first dinner I’d cooked since my darling DH passed away. I haven’t wanted to be in the kitchen much – I cooked a few breakfasts – made a few sandwiches for family, heated some soup from the freezer – but cook from scratch? Zippo. But the desire to cook is starting to come back, so you’ll be seeing some recipes as I make them.
With a semi-house-full of family staying with me, and no more already-cooked food to serve them, I knew I finally needed to get back into the kitchen. First, though, I had to clear my big island of the loads of flowers that were seriously over the hill. I hated throwing them away because they were all so beautiful. Kind people knew how much Dave loved roses, so there were many from the gorgeous sprays sent to our church for the memorial service. I left them intact for a few days, but with no easy way to water big sprays, we pulled the best of the flowers out and used every vase I had in the closet! But a week has gone by since the service, and with vases cluttering the island I just couldn’t seem to think straight about cooking. They’re all gone now and maybe that will clear the teary cobwebs from my eyes so I can enjoy the work in the kitchen, preparing a meal for family. It’s just that my greatest fan, my cheering section, my dear darling husband, is missing. I hope he was smiling down from heaven as he watched me prep and cook. And as I washed the dishes (although after dinner the two guys did the bulk of the dishes, bless them). Dave always said to me that he wondered if I’d do as much cooking if I had to wash my own dishes . . . I don’t think it will make a difference . . . but we’ll see.
Fortunately, this dinner was a big hit, and surprisingly it was also quite easy. I had a gigantic whole pork shoulder roast in the freezer. I should have halved it when I bought it and made two smaller roasts, but I hadn’t done that. So I started with over 8 pounds of pork shoulder. Sigh. That’s one heck of a big piece of meat. I did cut it in half before I began the cooking, and finally ended up dividing it into two separate batches of ragu. The recipe below is for about 3 pounds of pork shoulder (aka pork butt). I got the recipe online – you can find it in several places, but it’s from a cookbook called Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style by Dominica Marchetti.
In a nutshell, the roast is salted and peppered, browned well on all sides in oil, removed, then a copious amount of onions are diced and sautéed, along with some garlic. Then you add fresh rosemary, bay leaves, red wine, canned tomatoes and a pound of Italian sausage. Then the meat is added back in and its simmered low and slow for several hours. The meat gets shredded (like for pulled pork), added back into the sauce and that’s really it. Oh, except for trying to skim off some of the fat. That takes a few minutes of patience. Ideally, make this a day ahead and chill it – then you could get nearly all the fat off the top. Serve on pasta (or rice) with grated Parmesan and I added a sprinkling of chopped Italian parsley. My cousin (the GF one) ate it with rice, and when some went back for seconds, I noticed they used rice also. It’s good with both. It’s intended as a sauce for pasta.
What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. Pork, especially pork with a bone, just develops a whole lot of flavor when it’s slow-braised and simmered. It was very easy to make – it probably could be adapted to a slow cooker, though I merely did it on the stovetop as the recipe indicates. This is a keeper. It also feeds a lot of people. Generally I don’t like to re-freeze meat, but I’m going to HAVE to with this recipe.
What’s NOT: nothing, really. If you don’t have time to cook it on the stove (and tend to it during its several hours of cooking), do try to adapt it to a slow cooker – that way you could start it in the morning.
* Exported from MasterCook *
Pork Shoulder Ragu for a Crowd
Recipe By: Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books, 2008)
Serving Size: 12
3 pounds Boston butt roast — (pork shoulder) in one or two pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large yellow onions — diced (5 cups)
4 cloves garlic — minced or smashed
1 cup dry red wine
7 cups canned tomatoes — chopped, with their juices
4 whole bay leaves (I used Turkish just because I prefer them to California bay leaves)
Two sprigs fresh rosemary (each about 4 inches long)
1 pound Italian sausage — mild (I used half mild, half spicy)
About 3 pounds short pasta, cooked (I used penne rigate, my favorite)
1/2 cup Italian parsley — chopped (my addition)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese — (or more, as needed for serving)
Notes: If using bone-in pork shoulder, you’ll want to have about 4 pounds. It will be more flavorful if you use the bone-in, but boneless works just fine too.
1. Season the pork shoulder well with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side, until it is evenly browned. This will take at least 15 minutes. Remove pork to a large bowl or plate.
2. Reduce heat to medium and add the onions, stirring well to coat with the oil. Saute until translucent, about 10 minutes, adding the garlic during the last minute of cooking. Add the pork back to the pot, raise the heat to medium-high, and pour in the wine. Let it boil for a minute before adding the tomatoes, bay leaves, and rosemary. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
3. If using bulk sausage, break it into little clumps and add it to the pot. If using sausage links, remove the casings and squeeze the meat into the pot, breaking it up well. Give a good stir, cover, and simmer very gently for 2-1/2 hours, turning the roast over at least once so the other half is submerged in the sauce. Test the meat for tenderness (I simmered this closer to 3 1/2 hours), and continue to cook until the meat is fork tender. Remove the meat to a cutting board and shred it. As you shred discard the chunks of fat still attached to the meat.) Return the meat to the pot and heat the ragu through. Adjust the salt if desired. The meat is much easier to shred when it’s hot or at least warm – once cold, you’ll need to slice and chop it – it will still taste fine, but you won’t have those nice shreds of meat. The shredding – if done by hand – will take about 20 minutes or so. Also beware you don’t over cook the meat – at a point when you simmer pork you will have cooked all the fat and juiciness out of it and it will be dry. So taste the meat as you go. If you use a fork to pull off some meat and it doesn’t just almost fall apart, it’s not cooked enough.
4. Serve with cooked pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese and Italian parsley. The sauce is fairly “soupy,” so serve in a bowl if preferred. Cool any leftovers, and freeze, if desired, in quart-sized containers.
Per Serving: 431 Calories; 28g Fat (59.9% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 111mg Cholesterol; 703mg Sodium.