The “I broke my ankle and need comfort food” excuse continues: I’m craving rich, creamy, tomatoey Italian pasta that will take me back to my childhood in Rome.
I want the house to smell like Italy and for it to rain delicate flakes of Parmesan and Pecorino Cheese on a hearty pork ragu sauce that has been simmering on the stove for hours.
There is no going back…once the thought of pasta has been vividly conjured up in my senses, it must be brought to life!
First, I decide that I want Bucatini. Ever since discovering this Spaghetti shaped pasta, it’s become one of my favorites. Bucatini is a
thicker than normal noodle with a hollow center, which is great for hearty sauces like this pork ragu because it catches some of the sauce and creates a perfectly moist pasta bite every time. It’s like having the best of both worlds: the fun, fork twirling experience of spaghetti and the sauce catching power of tubular shaped pasta like penne. Plus, I feel like I eat less carbs when the pasta is larger and hollow, because less of it fits on the plate.
I’ve made Italian meat Ragus so many times that I could do it with my eyes closed. Well, maybe not…I’d be a little concerned about chopping with my ridiculously sharp Japanese Santoku knife. And though I love the classic meat Bolognese, there’s something about a slowly simmered all pork Ragu that makes me feel like I’m sitting at a small table in an Italian grandmother’s cozy kitchen, with her saying “Mangia! Manga!” as she proudly spoons more Ragu on my plate after preparing a recipe that has been passed down through five generations. Oh how I miss Italy and hope that Chris and I get to sail there!
So, if you feel like traveling to the Italian countryside through your senses, then just go to the market and pick up some Italian sausage, ground pork, a can of Italian San Marzano tomatoes, bucatini (or pasta of your choice) and high quality Parmesan cheese and get started on this delicious pork Ragu. I promise both eating and cooking it will fill you with warmth and comfort 🙂
The king of ALL tomatoes?
I’m obsessed with San Marzano tomatoes. I crave the taste at least a few times a month and eat them straight out of the can. I think they just really remind me of my childhood in Italy, and in hindsight I now realize that Italians use them in pretty much any dish that calls for tomatoes. So for this Foodstory, I decided to investigate the origin of this incredibly unique tasting Italian tomato variety.
San Marzano tomatoes originated in – you guessed it – San Marzano Sul Sarno in Italy, a small town (frankly, aside from Rome and Florence, they are ALL small towns!) just outside of Naples, where the first seeds are thought to have been planted in the late 1700s. Apparently, legend goes that the seeds were a gift to the Empire of Naples from the Viceroyalty of Peru, a Spanish empire that dominated most of South America for over two centuries. What?!? My beloved San Marzano Italian tomatoes actually come from Peru?? Well, I’ll still give credit to the Italians because clearly they gave this delicate plant the care that it needed to become the greatest tomato in the world. And this care continues to this day: San Marzano tomatoes are grown under very strict rules that help deliver the highest quality tomato every year. In fact, authentic San Marzano tomatoes must come with a D.O.P. (an Italian type of authenticity certification) label on the can, otherwise they are not the real deal.
And there are a LOT of fakes out there, so make sure you see that D.O.P. stamp!
So what’s so special about this tomato? The plants are grown right at the base of Mount Vesuvius, where the rich volcanic soil provides special nutrients that create a sweeter than normal tomato with a lower acidity content. They have a stunning, deep red color and are easy to peel. And, they are also coveted for their low seed count, having only two seed pockets, while most tomatoes have as many as five.
As always, leave it to the Italians and their passion for quality to make something perfect, in this case…the best tomato in the world. Bravo!
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
- 4 oz pancetta or bacon (optional)
- 1 large carrot
- 2 medium celery ribs
- 1 medium onion
- 4 large garlic cloves, or more if small
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tbs chopped fresh oregano, or 1/2 tbs dry
- 2 to 3 anchovies (optional)
- 2 dry hot calabrian chile peppers (or 1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes)
- 1 tbs tomato paste
- 1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 or more cups of water
- 1 lb Bucatini
- 1/2 parmesan cheese (plus extra for serving)
- 1/3 pecorino romano
1) Slice the pancetta or bacon into strips if using. Alternatively, you can cube a slab of either as well. Remove the sausage from the casings.
2) Heat 3 tbs of the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon first. Cook about 3 minutes stirring frequently until browned and crispy, remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside. Add the ground pork and sausage, breaking up the meat and mixing it with the back of a spoon or the tip of a spatula. Try to break the meat into even pieces.
3) Remove half of the meat from the pan and make sure heat is on high. Now cook the first batch without touching and let it sizzle for a 3 minutes. You want to get the meat nice and brown and get some “brown bits” on the bottom of the pan. This is FLAVOR for the sauce! Repeat with second batch. Remove meat with slotted spoon leaving as much fat as possible in the pan and add to the pancetta / bacon.
4) Prepare the vegetables: Chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Thinly slice the garlic and chop the Calabrian hot peppers. Note: don’t worry about being perfect with the chopping because you will be pureeing all the vegetables anyway with an immersion blender. This is just so they cook evenly. Also chop the parsley, fresh oregano and anchovy if using.
5) Heat leftover meat fat in the pan over medium heat and add the last tbs of olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and hot pepper to the pan. Cook on medium heat until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Lower heat to medium low if the vegetables are browning. While they are cooking, season with 1/4 tsp kosher salt (or a little regular salt) and a few grind of fresh black pepper.
6) While veggies cook, mix 1 tbs tomato paste with 1 cup of water. Open the can of San Marzano tomatoes (yes, you can use regular tomatoes…but it just won’t be the same!), pour into a bowl and use your hands to crush them. Make sure your hand is submerged in the sauce when crushing or you’ll get tomato sauce flying everywhere! Again, don’t worry about them being perfect, since you will puree them anyway.
7) Add the chopped anchovies, parsley and oregano to the vegetables. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring well. Turn up the heat and add the 1/4 cup red wine, scraping the bottom to release the caramelized meat bits. Let the alcohol cook off for a few minutes, then add the tomato paste and water mixture. Stir and let the mixture boil for 5 minutes.
8) Add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes to the pan, mix and cook 2 more minutes. Now use the immersion blender to blend everything into a smooth, creamy sauce. Add a couple of pinches of sugar and kosher salt and 2 more grinds of black pepper. We’re building flavor here… slowly.
9) Now add the meat to the pan and stir to combine. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then lower heat to as low as you can get it so it barely bubbles, cover with lid leaving just a little gap and let it simmer for the next few hours. # hours does the trick, 4 is better and 5 is perfect. You want to stir the sauce every 45 minutes if you can, and add some water when the sauce gets too thick that the meat is poking out. After 4 to 5 hours, your sauce should be perfect and you won't be able to stop tasting it!
10) Fill a large pot with water, add a couple of dashes of salt and bring to a boil. Cook the bucatini about 8 minutes…you want the pasta to be slightly underdone. As it gets close to being done, scoop out 2 cups of the pasta water.
11) Drain the bucatini and add to the sauce, along with 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Simmer for 4 minutes until pasta is perfectly done and the sauce has thickened. The starch in the pasta water helps thicken the sauce.
12) Turn off heat, add the other 2 tbs chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 cup grated parmesan and 1/3 cup grated pecorino (or just 3/4 cup parmesan). Mix everything together.
13) Carefully scoop the bucatini into bowls, adding some sauce on top. Sprinkle with more freshly grated cheese and a little chopped parsley for some color. Give it a few grinds of fresh pepper if you’d like.
And now... marvel at this incredible Italian pork argue that you made from scratch 🙂