One thing you'll notice if you've been reading this blog for a while is that I take relatively few pictures of meat. This may cause you to assume that I don't eat it, but that's not true. Here's why you're more likely to see minty peas or blueberry-ricotta pancakes than a side of beef on 5 Second Rule:
1) I'm more comfortable cooking vegetables and grains than meat.
2) Whenever I cook meat, the sun is always down.
3) I take all my pictures before 3pm, outside.
4) Meat is ugly.
I'm sorry for #4, I really am. But my burgeoning photo skills seem to shrivel up and die whenever there's a chicken breast within 10 miles. Put a turkey burger in front of my lens and the shutter spontaneously jams. A lamb chop? Forget it.
But Domenica Marchetti's second book, Big Night In, inspired me to try one more time.
As I went through the pages, I tabbed recipe after recipe of authentic Italian dishes. And while her mini rice croquettes, farmers' market minestrone, and toasted coconut crostata received their fair share of post-its, it was her meat dishes that most excited me. Part of that is because I lack a bit of confidence in the meat department (okay, how can Boston butt possibly be the same as pork shoulder?), and part of it is that the vast majority of my cookbooks have the words "baking" or "chocolate" in the title.
So it's not my fault.
Anyway, it was especially fun for me to flip through the 100+ recipes because I met Domenica at a conference last year, and she's extremely down to earth and possesses a quiet confidence and big, warm smile. Book signings are brutal, especially when you're in a room with 20 other authors and don't know if anyone's going to stop and praise your work or look right past you, as if Javier Bardem were waiting in the doorway.
I chatted with Domenica because she was smart and relaxed. I cook from her book because it's terrific.
And I must say, that picture of tonight's pork ragu, which I'm serving over penne in about 10 minutes, makes me pretty darn proud.
Of course, the grass in the background doesn't hurt either.
Recipe for Pork Ragu for a Crowd
Adapted from Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books, 2008)
Domenica isn't kidding when she says this recipe feeds a crowd. It filled my Dutch oven nearly to the brim and produced so much loveliness I brought several cups to my neighbor and froze a good portion for future meals. She also indicates it gets better if made ahead of time and reheated.
I hewed extremely closely to her recipe, but did use bulk sausage and cooked the sauce/stew a bit longer than indicated to make the meat even more tender. I also left out the rosemary, a genuine oversight since my front yard sports a rosemary bush bigger than Shrek.
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), in one or two pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large yellow onions, diced (5 cups)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry red wine
7 cups chopped canned tomatoes with their juices
4 bay leaves
A sprig or two of rosemary, or not
1 pound mild Italian pork sausage
Cooked short pasta, for serving, plus freshly grated Parmesan cheese
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 seared. This will take a good 15 minutes. Remove pork to a large bowl or plate.
Reduce heat to medium and add the onions and garlic, stirring well to coat with the oil. Saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. 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, if you remember it. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
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 (I simmered closer to 3 hours and turned the heat down to low), or until the meat is fork tender. Remove the meat to a cutting board and shred it. (At this point, I discarded any wayward globs of fat still attached to the meat.) Return the meat to the pot and heat the ragu through. Adjust the salt if desired.
Serve with cooked pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese.
(Domenica indicates that this recipe serves 12 -- or enough for 3 pounds of pasta.)
Cool any leftovers, and freeze, if desired, in quart-sized containers.