It wasn’t difficult for me to fall in love with Italian cuisine. One of the restaurants we frequented growing up was Thailand’s first Italian establishment owned by a Thai guy. My dad’s friend, to be exact. My mom also made some killer bolognese in the slow cooker and I was always envied when I brought spaghetti to lunch at school.
As you know, when I first started to cook when Brandon and I got married, it was Rachael Ray who got me into the kitchen, but I quickly graduated from her onto Giada DeLaurentiis.
I can see some of you hard core food nerds rolling your eyes right now. But hey, like bacon to a former vegetarian, there is always a gateway celebrity chef who inspired you to cook. Giada got me interested in Italian cooking, cultures, and language. (I’m currently on my second year of casually learning Italian, made more difficult by being a third language learned on a second one.)
Naturally, I paid a lot of attention to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation when he visited Italy once again in search of the origin of the Red Sauce. [ETA: Gah…video has been removed. Gotta find another copy.]
I took notes of all the ingredients mentioned in this video and paid close attention to what was being put in the pot. There isn’t a recipe laying around or anything, so I just went for it.
The video more or less tell you everything that goes in the ragu:
Onion, garlic, good extra virgin olive oil. Pork sausage, veal, pork ribs, and braciole (pieces of veal wrapped around parmesan cheese, garlic, basil, parsley, raisins, pine nuts). You brown the meats in the pan, then cover it with tomato puree. Put it on super low, just so it barely bubbles, all day. Skim of the fat. Toss the sauce with the pasta as your first course, then serve the meat as main course with wild greens sauteed in garlic and pepperoncino.
Of course, there is no braciole to be bought and I wasn’t about to make one. I deconstructed THAT and use the ingredients right in the sauce.
A good testament to a solid base recipe is this: even I took off running with the ingredients and put my own interpretation to it, the result is still fantastic. I may have really been Italian in my past life after all!
For my Sunday supper, I didn’t go to the length of doing the sauteed greens, but I did separate the meats from the sauce. However, I did provide plenty of scarpetta to mop up the sauce at the end.
Ragu Napoletano della Oakley
Inspired by this awesome Italian momma on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation. This recipe can easily feeds 6…or 4 really hungry people. Obviously, I winged the whole thing since momma never actually gives her recipe. So there’s really no measurement to much of anything. Trust your judgement!
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lb. Italian mild/sweet pork sausage, kept whole
- 3-4 lbs. country-style pork ribs
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 4-5 cloves of garlic, sliced
- A palm full each of pine nuts and raisins, roughly chopped
- Strained tomatoes in a can, box, or bottle. I used a box of Pomi (Trader Joe’s) or a bottle of Bionaturae (Whole Foods).
- A palm-full of chopped Italian parsley
- Parmesan cheese rinds — if you have some. You can buy them from Whole Foods too now.
- Pasta. I used rigatoni.
- Accompaniment: grated Parmesan and crusty bread to mop up all the goodness
Heat the EVOO in a pot on medium-high. Liberally season the pork ribs. Brown all the meats, starting with sausage (yup…the whole thing goes in), one batch at a time. Set aside. Keep the fat in the pan.
Turn the heat to medium, add onion and garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook until soft. Add pine nuts and raisins. Cook a few more minutes.
Add the meat and juices back to the pot. Add the strained tomatoes, cheese rind and parsley. Move the meat around to get the sauce all the way to the bottom.
Bring it to bubbling. Then turn the heat down as low as it’s going to go. Let simmer. It’ll look like soup the first few hours. But don’t worry, we’re going to get that reduced and thickened.
Keep the sauce on slow bubbling at least 4 hours. VERY slow bubbling. I’ve gone to 8 hours once! Whatever time it is to achieve the fall off the bone tenderness from the pork.
Cook your pasta in a pot of boiling salted water. While pasta cooks, skim the fat off the top of the sauce, and there will be a LOT of it. Then remove the big chunks of meat and sausages from the sauce and put the meat on a platter and keep warm. It’s okay that some pieces are left behind in the sauce–we’ll just mix that in. Discard bones and cheese rind at this point.
Now, the pasta should be about al dente when you add them HOT into the pot of sauce. You can reserve a cup or so of the pasta water before your drain over the sink to use for loosening up the thick sauce to your liking. (I usually fish out the pasta from the pot and put it on the sauce directly so I have all the pasta water in the world.) If your pasta water is nicely salted, you won’t have to worry about it diluting the seasoning of the ragu.
Toss well, and you can turn off the heat now.
Serve your pasta with a drizzle of really good extra virgin olive oil and side of grated parmesan cheese and the platter of meat.