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Archive for the ‘Pork’

Real Ragú Doesn’t Come from a Jar 0

Posted on June 14, 2012 by Sahar

Ragú.  The word has been part of the American food lexicon since 1969. (The brand was started by a cheese importer Giovanni Cantisano and his wife Assunta in 1937 in New York. They sold the brand to Chesebrough-Ponds in 1969 for $43.8M.)  Most people know it as the original sauce in a jar (other than Chef Boyardee).  It has, admittedly, been the lifesaver of many a harried mom trying to put a hot meal on the table, college students looking for a cheap meal, and a quick substitute for pizza sauce.

However, I’m here to tell you, that isn’t real ragú.  A real ragú, as any prideful Italian will tell you, is a meat sauce that originated in the Emilia-Romanga region of Italy.  It’s not a brand name.

There are literally thousands of written recipes now for ragú.  In fact, since the original recipe was never written down, no one can say for sure that they know what the original recipe even was. It comes in many variations that are specific to the region where the recipe is developed (a very common thing still in Italy).  Recipes can be with or without tomatoes, include all different types of meats or poultry, contain offal, and be made with or without wine and/or milk.

According to culinary historians, Ragù alla Bolognese follows the origin of ragús in Italian cuisine. The first known reference to ragù as a pasta sauce dates to the  late 18th century, and originated in Imola, near to the city of Bologna.  The first recipe for a meat sauce characterized as being Bolognese came from Pellegrino Artusi and was included in his cookbook published in 1891. Artusi’s recipe, Maccheroni alla bolognese, is believed to have originated from the middle 19th century when he spent considerable time in Bologna.

Artusi’s sauce called for predominantly lean veal filet along with pancetta, butter, onion, and carrot. The meats and vegetables were to be finely minced, cooked with butter until the meats browned, then covered and cooked with broth. Artusi added the sauce could be enhanced by adding dried mushrooms, truffle slices, or finely chopped chicken liver. He further added that when the sauce was completely done you could add as a final touch half a glass of cream to make an even more delicate dish.

In the century-plus since Artusi wrote and published his recipe for Maccheroni alla Bolognese (maccheroni being a catch-all word for pasta in Artusi’s time), what is now ragù alla bolognese has evolved with the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region. Most notable is the preferred choice of pasta, which today is widely accepted as fresh tagliatelle (a wide, flat pasta). Another reflection of the evolution of the cuisine over the past 150 years is the addition of tomato, either as a puree or as a concentrated paste, or both, to the original mix of ingredients. Similarly, both wine and milk appear today in the list of ingredients in many of the contemporary recipes, and beef has mostly replaced veal as the preferred protein.

While the number of recipe and ingredient variations are significant, there are characteristic commonalities. Garlic is absent from all of the recipes. So are herbs other than the limited use of Bay leaves in some recipes. Seasoning is limited to salt, pepper and the occasional addition of nutmeg. In all of the recipes meat is the principal ingredient, and while tomatoes are included they are only used as an enhancement to the meat.

(Some historical information from; and The Food Chronology, James Trager, Owl Books, 1995)


Now, to the recipe.


The Ingredients


Ragú is actually quite easy to make.  It is a sauce that requires patience, however.  From start to finish, this sauce takes about 3 – 3 1/2 hours to prepare.  So, it’s not something you can start when you get home from work.  Nor would I recommend it for the crock pot.  However, you can make extra over the weekend or your days off.  It freezes beautifully.

This particular ragú recipe that I’m using is an adaptation of a recipe I love from Fine Cooking Magazine’s Real Italian Collection (Taunton Press, 2010).


3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 lb. Prosciutto, thick cut, diced (keep the fat cap on.  It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish)

1 sm. onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 lb. ground pork

2 tbsp. tomato paste

1/2 c. dry white wine

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)

28 oz can crushed tomatoes (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)

1 c. beef or chicken broth

Salt & Pepper to taste

1/2 c. whole milk or half & half

1 lb. Pappardelle, Tagliatelle, or other flat, wide pasta


1.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven.  Add the prosciutto and cook, stirring frequently, to crisp the prosciutto slightly and to help render the fat.

The prosciutto. Keep the fat cap. It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish.


Cooking the prosciutto & rendering the fat. Yummy.


2.  Add the onion, carrot, and celery.

The classic mirepoix. Or, in Italian, soffritto.


Saute the vegetables with the prosciutto until they are soft and slightly browned.  About 8 – 10 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteing the vegetables.


Just before adding the ground pork. Note how the vegetables have softened and slightly browned.


3.  Add the ground pork.  Cook until the pork is no longer pink.  it doesn’t need to be browned.  Just have the pink cooked out.

After the pork has been added and cooked.


4.  Add in the tomato paste, white wine, and pepper flakes.  Cook until the paste has been mixed in and the most of the wine has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

After the wine, tomato paste, and pepper flakes have been added.


5.  Add the crushed tomatoes, beef or chicken broth, and some salt & pepper.

**Take care not to add too much salt.  The prosciutto and the broth (if you’re using commercially made) will already have salt.  If you want to omit it until later in the cooking process, go ahead.  You can always add more in later, but you can’t take it out.

Right after adding the tomatoes, broth, and salt & pepper.


Cover the saucepan or Dutch oven and bring the sauce to a boil.  Then, uncover, turn the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 2 hours.  Stirring occasionally.  The flavors will mellow and mesh together as the sauce cooks.

After 30 minutes.


After 1 hour. This is usually the earliest point where I start tasting for seasoning.


After 90 minutes. Begin stirring more frequently. Again, check the seasoning.


At 2 hours. Notice how the sauce has thickened up and become darker in color.


6.  Add the milk or half & half.  Mix in and continue cooking the sauce for a further 30 minutes.  Stir frequently.

The ragú right after adding the milk.


7.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta.  Use a pot large enough to cook the pasta properly (i.e. keep it from sticking together in the pot) and use salted water.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions to al dente (“to the teeth”).  Drain and set aside.

(I generally don’t rinse my pasta.  I think the starch is important to helping the sauce stick to the pasta. Plus, rinsing pasta loses some of the flavor.  If you want to rinse your pasta, please don’t tell me about it.)

8.  After the final 30 minutes of cooking, remove the ragú from the heat and taste for seasoning one more time.  Serve with the pasta.  If you want to have some Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano as well, go ahead.  I generally don’t.


Buon Appetito!



Posole (…or, Pozole) 0

Posted on February 28, 2012 by Sahar

Pozole, a word of Pre-Hispanic origin meaning “froth”, is a stew-like dish prepared with grains of a special corn called cacahuazintle (a very large kernel corn with a tough skin originally grown in Mexico) pre-cooked in a weak lye-water solution, making the corn grains lose their tough, fibrous outer layer so that they open like flowers when boiled, giving them the appearance of froth (what we now call hominy).  This corn is added to a broth with shredded chicken or pork. When serving, the usual condiments are chopped onion, limes, dried oregano, avocado, shredded cabbage, and tortillas.

Different states of Mexico have made pozole their own. People in the State of Guerrero add tomatillos, Michoacán residents add pork rinds, Colima residents enjoy it with queso fresco (white cheese), and in coastal areas it is common to add sardines and other small fish. The best known recipe, however,  is from Jalisco, prepared with pork and dried poblano peppers.

Posole is usually served at celebrations, like birthdays, Dia de los Muretos (Day of the Dead), and Christmas.  The Aztecs, however, had their own recipe for posole. During the celebrations in honor of god Xipe (the God of Agriculture and the Seasons), Emperor Moctezuma was served a huge pozole dish, crowned with the thigh of a sacrificed prisoner.  In fact, the earliest history of posole states that the broth & hominy were cooked with the flesh of sacrificed prisoners.  When cannibalism was outlawed, chicken and pork took the place of people.


Now, for the recipe.

The style posole I make is the Jalisco style.  I haven’t tried any of the other variations, but I’d bet the Michoacán style, with the pork rinds, is amazing.

A quick note, I include quantities for both whole chiles as well as the powdered equivalents.  I  made this recipe with the powders.  They are both equally good, but I find making the recipe with the powders easier and quicker.  However, it is up to you.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients


The spices, a closer look. Clockwise from top: Black Pepper, Salt, Cumin, Ancho Chile Powder, Pasilla Chile Powder, Mexican Oregano, Chipotle Chile Powder


3 lb. pork shoulder, cut into 2″ pieces, or, country-style ribs (be sure to keep any bone)

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

4 ea. whole Ancho chiles, or, 2 tbsp. Ancho chile powder

2 ea. whole Guajillo or Pasilla chiles, or, 1 tbsp. ground Guajillo or Pasilla chile powder (NOTE: Guajillo chile powder is usually sold as “ground chile pepper”)

1 ea. whole Chipotle chile, or, 1/2 tsp. ground Chipotle chile powder

2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

10 cloves garlic, minced

2 med. white onions, diced

2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano

2 tsp. ground cumin

2 cans hominy, drained


Condiments:  lime wedges, shredded green cabbage, dried Mexican oregano, minced onion, corn tortillas


The Condiments: Corn Tortillas, Lime Wedges, Onion, Dried Mexican Oregano, Shredded Cabbage


1.  Prepare the chiles: (If you have clean latex gloves, now is the time to use them.)  Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles.  Place them in a small bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water.  Weigh down the chiles (a small plate will be sufficient) and let them soak for about 30 minutes.  Remove the chiles from the soaking liquid and place them in a blender with just enough of the soaking liquid, if needed, to make a smooth puree.  Set aside.

*If you are using the chile powders instead, skip Step 1.

2.  In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Brown the pork, in batches.  You just want to sear , not cook the pork all the way through.  Remove the pork from the heat and set aside.  If you have any bones, sear them as well.

Searing the pork


3.  Add the onion and garlic to the stockpot and cook until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  The moisture from the onions will help to release all those browned goodies stuck to the bottom of the pan after the meat has been browned.

Browning the onions and garlic. Note the clean pan bottom.


Add the chile puree or chile powders and the other spices.  Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  Be sure not to burn the spices.

The onions and garlic with the spices.


4.  Add the pork and any bones you may have seared back into the stockpot.  Add just enough water or broth to cover the meat.  Cover and bring the liquid to a boil.  Partially uncover, lower the heat to medium-low and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally. (The bones will add a lot of flavor to the broth.)

The pork added back to the pot and mixed with the onions, garlic, and the spices.


After adding the chicken broth.


5.  After the first hour of cooking, add the hominy.  Uncover the stockpot completely and continue cooing until the meat is tender, about another 30 – 45 minutes.  (Be sure to test the meat for tenderness about every 15 minutes after the first hour.  You want the meat to be fork tender and easy to shred.  Even though you’re essentially braising the pork, it can dry if you overcook it.)

Adding the hominy after the first hour of cooking. Note the change in color of the broth.


Remove the meat from the broth and set it aside until cool enough to handle. Discard the bones, if you have any.  Either chop or shred the meat and add it back to the broth.  Taste for seasoning.

The shredded pork.


The finished posole. The hominy helps to thicken the broth.


6.  Serve the posole with corn tortillas.  Pass around the garnishes and let everyone serve themselves.






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