04 March 2009

Saturday Ragu

Preceding the cupcakes from the previous post at last Saturday's dinner was a main dish I'd been aching to try ever since I saw it in January's Gourmet. I'd been craving meat, after cooking largely vegetarian dishes (with a few, delicious slip ups ... a girl's got needs, ya know) and decided to give this a whirl. This was the last weekend I'd not be on a plane or on a different continent until April, so I decided to spend the day in the kitchen, prepping for a dinner of hungry guys.

The main gist of this recipe ... braise meat, add drippings and meat to pot of homemade sauce, brown more meat, add drippings and meat to sauce, and so on and so forth. Then, simmer for at least 2 1/4 hours until the meat's falling off the bone / tender. I omitted the braised pork shoulder and braciole from this meatlover's paradise, due to space constrictions (without, I had my 5 qt pasta pot filled TO THE BRIM) and also time, but it was still unbelievably tasty.

For the full recipe, click here. Below is my version ... just some minor tweaks.

For the tomato sauce base ...

I used 4 cans of whole tomatoes (28 oz) and one can of stewed tomatoes, blending so that it's relatively smooth but with a few pieces of tomato in tact. Blend these in a side container, while you sweat a large onion, chopped, and 5 cloves of chopped garlic. Once those are translucent, add the tomatoes, some salt and crushed red pepper flakes and a Bay leaf. I added some lemon zest, following the recipe of one of my favorite quick tomato sauces from 101cookbooks. You surely can go without, though. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes ... the sauce will start to thicken, and will continue to beef up (literally and figuratively) once you start adding meat and simmering even longer.

On to the meat ...

Here's what I used for this bottomless pot of meat sauce:

Polpette (also from this issue of Gourmet) - though mine were more round.
1 lb of sweet italian sausage
1 lb of hot italian sausage
2 1/2 lbs of pork ribs

Mix up polpette ingredients (I followed Gourmet's recipe to a tee), and fry until they have a nice golden crust, and are cooked through.

Transfer to paper towel to drain, and save some for lunch / to freeze. You'll have a hefty amount, and about half needs to go into this recipe, but you can for sure add more / less. These are great things to snack on as they come out of the pan ... so make sure you save some for the sauce. They disappear quickly ;)

Once those have drained, add to the sauce, add any drippings, but reserve the oil for remaining frying.

Brown up the batches of italian sausage, add to sauce as well.

Pad dry the ribs and cut into 2-3 rib sections. This makes it a bit easier to brown the meat. Salt and pepper both sides liberally, and brown in a pan. You want the meat to be cooked through for the most part ... and I found cutting these into smaller sections helped me better sear the ends to prevent it from going into the sauce too raw. Then, as is old hat by now, add to the sauce with the drippings. (Note: pictures below were the first batch of ribs I cooked ... I then cut into smaller hunks to better brown ...)

Cover the pot, put it on a simmer, and let that bad larry slow cook. I probably had this on for 3 or 3 1/2 hours on simmer as my guests were arriving / having a few drinks / noshing on apps. Cook up some egg fettuccine to go with and serve. If I had extra time (this is an all day affair, btw) I would have made some homemade tagliatelle or fettuccine myself. But alas, for another day.

By the time you serve, the meatballs, which were incredibly flavorful from the start, take on an even richer taste, while the rib meat falls off the bone.

Very, very happy guests, wonderful aroma lingering in the apartment, and killer leftovers. This sauce gets better each day it sits, giving me ample to freeze as well. Dinner, success. Served with a microgreens salad with some blue cheese, pecans and a light grapefruit dressing, also with a vegetarian pasta (not pictured) featuring a lemony mustard cream sauce with tarragon and asparagus.

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