Friday, June 10, 2005

Rustic Italian Comfort

This recipe is from a special issue of Fine Cooking magazine, their Comfort Foods special edition. It is soooo tasty. Hot and muggy summer days are not the best for this kind of dish, best suited for a chilly autumn afternoon.

This begs the question...what are the best "comfort foods" for summer? Let me know if you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.

I believe this dish gets its name from Calabria, a region in southern Italy.

Calabrese Pork Ragu with Fennel
Serves 2 to 6, depending on how hungry you are!

2 Tbs, Olive Oil
6 Oz, Pancetta, finely chopped[1]
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 Tbs, finely chopped garlic
1 Tbs, whole fennel seeds, crushed
3 lbs, ground pork[2]
1 Tsp, sugar
1 Tsp, dried oregano
1, bay leaf
1 Tsp, crushed red chilé flakes
1 Cup, dry white wine
2 Cups, tomato puree[3]
¾ Cup, tomato paste[4]
grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned, 12-15 minutes[5]. Add the garlic and crushed fennel and stir for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Increase the heat to medium high. In the same pot, add just enough of the ground pork to make one layer (don’t crumble it; instead, break it into pieces to brown). Season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat all over, stirring occasionally, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the first batch of meat to the bowl and sear the remaining pork in batches, if necessary; add more olive oil as needed.

Return all the seared pork and the onion mixture to the pot. Add the sugar, oregano, bay leaf, red chilé flakes, 2 tsp. salt and 1 ½ tsp. pepper and stir to combine. Pour in the wine to deglaze the pot, stirring up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let the wine reduce by at least half. Add the tomato puree and tomato paste and bring the sauce to a boil (mixture will be thick).

Add ½ cup water, reduce the heat, and simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for 1 ½ to 2 hours. As it cooks, juices will evaporate; add more water periodically, letting it reduce after each addition, to total of 1 ½ to 2 cups. After 1½ hours, the meat should be tender and the flavors melded. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Immediately before serving, whisk ½ tbs. butter per serving[6] into the sauce and toss with the pasta. Serve with sprinkled Parmigiano Reggiano if you like.

[1] Pancetta is preferred, but a thick cut bacon works just as well. Just sauté by itself for a few minutes to get more of the fat out, drain, then add back and add onions. If you use Pancetta, stick it in the freezer for ten minutes before you start to prepare this recipe. Pancetta is tough to cut and freezing helps the process.
[2] Ground Pork is what the original recipe calls for. It’s fine. A ‘meatloaf’ mix is actually what I prefer, for the multiple flavors it adds to the dish, guess you’d just have to call this Calabrese Ragu with Fennel then.
[3] This is vital for the fullest flavor. Other canned tomato products are ok, but not preferred. If I don't have tomato puree on hand, but have other canned tomato products, I put them through the food processor for a few seconds.
[4] Again, very vital for a deep full flavor dish. Made this once with just a tablespoon and it wasn’t enough, the dish lacked the richness provided by tomato paste.
[5] Letting the onion and pancetta get golden brown and delicious makes the final sauce deeper in flavor.
[6] Sounds weird and could be skipped, but makes all the difference in the world. WOW! Transforms the dish from great to sublime, mostly in a silkiness created by the butter coating everything. Doesn't make the dish 'oily.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Comfort foods for summer? For me, it tends to be more snacky stuff and not as many "meals," cuz I don't cook as much in my inferno apartment. But I *love* fresh berries with vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt. Hummus and crackers, chips and salsa, a good cheese with crackers or a baguette and a nice glass of chilled white wine, or a good easy pasta salad made with mixed veggies and an Italian salad dressing. That's about the extent of my kitchen activities when it's summer in the swamp (aka DC)!