Hearty, delicious, comforting and EASY to make! This pork shoulder ragu is one of those dishes which simmers away for an afternoon on your stove top to transform a cheap cut of meat and few other ingredients into a richly flavored dinner perfect for a Sunday dinner, a snow day when you’re stuck inside, or company coming over since all the work is done hours before. It’s time for some more slow cooked Italian comfort food here, and I couldn’t think of a better recipe than pork ragu!
While I’ve been making Beef Bolognese for decades now (I’m thinking it’s been about 20 years!), pork shoulder ragu is a relative newcomer. I’ve only been making this recipe for about 6 years. 🙂 Hardly any time at all! I got the original recipe from Fine Cooking, and as soon I saw it in the magazine, I knew I had to try it.
I’m glad I did, since we all loved the combination of pork shoulder and pork sausage. It’s such a great mix having the two textures and the two variations in pork flavor combined together. While I’ve made a few changes over the years to adapt the recipe to our tastes, you can see that the basics of the recipe come right from them.
These days it’s in the snow day rotation, along with the Bolognese, Italian meatballs, French short ribs, and a few other comforting, slow braised meals which I pull out as soon as the forecast says the word Nor’easter. A word which everyone on the east coast of the US knows well!
It hasn’t been too bad here so far this year – actually, it’s been rather warm – but there have been some years when we heard that word on a weekly basis and the snow piled higher than our heads.
Not only is this pork ragu a great recipe to make on a day when it’s snowy out and you’re puttering about the house, but it’s one of those perfect made-ahead meals!
Have time to make it on Saturday, but want to serve it on Sunday? No worries! Just let it cool, then chill it overnight, and rewarm it again the next day! No fuss. No muss.
Want the benefit of all the slow braising for another meal (or four)? Divide the ragu into freezer bags, lay them flat, and stack them up. Pork ragu has just become a super quick weeknight meal that simply requires heating the sauce and boiling some water.
And, while I go for the slow braised in a pot cooking method, yes you can make this in a slow cooker! Several hours on low (6-7) will do you and then it’s into a pot after you shred the pork so the ragu can reduce and thicken.
However you make the ragu, remember that willpower is important. No matter how excellent it smells, it needs its braising time and you’ll just have to wait. 🙂
As for the pasta, a short or skinny pasta (like spaghetti) will work fine. The pasta police won’t come after you. At least I don’t think they will…
But I think a wide noodle is best with a chunky ragu! Fettuccine or pappardelle or tagliatelle. They balance each other and I especially like the way the pappardelle fold over the sauce so you get a forkful of pasta surrounding some of the sauce and pork.
Not that I make fresh pappardelle all the time! Usually I go with a dry fettuccini. 🙂 But, I’ve been working on my fresh pasta making lately with plans of writing up a step by step guide to basic, fresh pasta, and I figured it was good time to practice. Since I know that sounds like a lot of work, I should note that I took advantage of the ragu’s easy reheating and made the ragu on day 1, which I then reheated while I made the pasta on day 2. Though, since 99% of the work in making ragu is done hours before, you could totally make pasta the same day. My daughter and I have made the pasta and sauce together several times with Bolognese. I had to take photos, so spreading out was the way to go for me.
I will say that with the rich, beautiful pork shoulder ragu and the fresh pappardelle (and a lovely glass of red wine), I felt like I was in a great Italian restaurant. The only difference was we had to do the washing up after dinner, but we also started a fire so it balanced out.
A roaring fire, a glass of wine, snowflakes coming down, and pork ragu. Sounds like a perfect winter evening to me.
– Happy Braising, Annemarie
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 lbs pork shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into a few large chunks
- salt and pepper
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 28 oz can of whole tomatoes, pureed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tbsp fresh
- 1 tsp dried oregano, or 1 tbsp fresh
- 1/2 lb sweet Italian pork sausage
- 2 lbs dried or fresh pasta, preferably thick noodles like fettucini
- shredded parmesan cheese, for topping
In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Once the oil is shimmering, add the pork and sear it all all sides until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the pork to a bowl and set aside.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic along with another sprinkle of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high again. Let the wine boil for about 5 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes and herbs.
Now add back in the pork shoulder. Then break up the sausage into small clumps and drop them into the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil, then cover the pot and lower the heat to keep it at a simmer. Simmer the sauce for 3 - 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the pork is tender and pulls apart easily.
Remove the chunks of pork shoulder from the sauce and shred them by pulling the pieces between two forks. Once the pork is shredded, add it back to the pot. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, and/or herbs as needed. Let the sauce continue to gently simmer uncovered on low while you cook the pasta.
Heat up a large pot of well salted water. Add the pasta to the water and cook until it is done to your liking. Scoop out about 1 cup of pasta water and then drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot you cooked it in and add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Then ladle in some of the pork ragu. Simmer the pasta and ragu together for a few minutes, adding more pasta water if needed, until you have a thick sauce which coats the pasta.
Serve the pasta with more ragu over the top and pass around the parmesan cheese.
- Inspired by Pasta with Sicilian Pork and Sausage Ragu from Fine Cooking.
- This recipe doubles easily and freezes well. I often make a double recipe, then portion out the sauce into freezer bags, and lay them flat in the freezer for ease of stacking and quick defrosting.
- If you want a bit of heat, switch out all or part of the sweet sausage for hot Italian sausage.
- I prefer a thicker tomato sauce, so I use crushed tomatoes. For a thinner sauce, use only whole tomatoes.
- The sauce can be cooked on the stove top or in the oven. If you want to cook it in the oven, heat the oven to 325F, bring the sauce to a good simmer on the stove top, then cover the pot and let braise for the 3 - 3 1/2 hour cooking time.
- The sauce can also be cooked in the slow cooker. Cook it through step 2, then transfer it to the slow cooker for 6-7 hours on low. Once it's done transfer the ragu back to a pot, shred the pork, and let it simmer and thicken on the stove top.