Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sunday Dinner, The Slow Way

I am finally getting back into the swing of things in my new kitchen. When Sunday rolled around, I had a hankering for pork sugo, a comforting dish that makes me wish I were Italian. I imagine a kindly looking nonna, bustling around the kitchen, chopping up vegetables, stirring away at the stove, rolling out her fresh pasta in front of an open window, all in preparation for the family meal. She probably has a sugo recipe handed down from her own nonna, and it isn’t written down, just something she does instinctively.

I am not so lucky. I am not Italian, did not marry an Italian, and have had to teach myself how to cook my own sugo. (A sugo is a very-rich flavored, long-simmering sauce traditionally served over pasta.) I found a recipe some time ago for a pork version that I really like, thick and redolent of herbs and wine (and it was good enough to put in the cookbook I put together over the holidays). It takes about 8 hours to cook from start to finish, but don’t let that keep you from trying. Most of that time is just simmering away on the stove, perfuming the house in a most heavenly way. The main prep can be done in less than an hour, and the rest of the time you can curl up on the couch with a good book, getting up now and then for a cup of tea and a quick stir of the pot.

I traditionally make this in a heavy All Clad stew pot, but this time I was able to use my new Le Crueset oval doufeu oven. A generous gift from friends over the holidays, everything just tastes better in a pot like this. While I have used it before (with the ice cubes on the lid and everything), this time it served as a stovetop Dutch oven. It cooks evenly and looks darn good doing so.

I had every intention of making my own pasta as well, but I had a tea date with Brilliant Daughter and a friend, so left the stirring in Mr. B’s capable hands and purchased some fresh egg pappardelle from Sergio’s Pasta Shop in San Mateo w hile I was out. Seems kind of like cheating, spending 8 hours on a sauce and only having to boil fresh pasta for 2 minutes, but I wasn’t going to resort to dry pasta if I could avoid it, and I really like fresh pappardelle with this sugo.

I used two pounds of pappardelle for this recipe. I mix about two-thirds of the sauce with the drained pasta and serve that in a bowl, with the extra sauce on the side. One thing to remember is to adjust the salt content when you add the cream. You want it to be just on the salty side to act as a counterpoint to the pasta.

Serve this with a generous amount of fresh shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a big salad, some rustic bread, and…of course, some good red wine.

Pork Sugo

1 carrot, trimmed
1 onion, peeled
4 stalks celery
2 cloves
2 peppercorns
2 ounces dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups warm water, liquid strained and reserved
1/4 cup olive oil
2 pounds ground pork
salt and pepper to taste
1 bottle red wine
4 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup crushed tomato (fresh or canned)
1 cup cream
2 pounds pasta

Chop the carrot, onion, celery, and mushrooms in a food processor. In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the cloves and peppercorns until fine and set aside.

In a large Dutch oven or stew pot, sweat the vegetables and mushrooms in the olive oil over medium heat until they become soft, 5-7 minutes, then add the pork, stirring until cooked through. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the wine, broth, herbs, spices and mushroom liquid. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and reduce by half, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir occasionally.

Once reduced, add crushed tomatoes and simmer on very low for 5 hours, stirring occasionally.

Add the cream and allow the sauce to simmer gently until has emulsified, about 15-20 minutes. Serve over a heavier, thicker pasta, like pappardelle with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

YIELD: 8-10 servings

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