Ragù alla Bolognese is no stranger to those of us who love Italian food. Originating in northern Italy, the classic sauce is made with a variety of meats that are slowly cooked until tender, along with vegetables, white wine and milk, with results that are hearty and rich, but also subtle in flavor.
Because the term ragù is in the name of this popular sauce, it's no surprise that most people outside of Italy have no idea that ragù actually refers to a broader category of meaty Italian sauces. Bolognese is simply a version that's typical of the city of Bologna.
Why do you care? Because while all Bolognese sauces are ragùs, not all ragùs are Bolognese. In fact, the two sauces are not always the same — and they're not necessarily interchangeable.
For example, this week's recipe, Slow-Braised Pork Ragù, as the name implies, is made with only pork, where Bolognese typically contains a variety of meats, including pork, beef and veal. It also uses red wine instead of white, and has a more robust tomato flavor.
One thing that all ragù sauces do have in common is the slow braise. Whether it's made on the stove or in the oven, this sauce requires patience, although once it starts cooking, it's mostly hands-off.
It's well worth the wait, though, as a certain magic seems to happen as the pork and aromatic vegetables slowly cook down with red wine, tomatoes, chicken broth and cream. The result is an ultra-thick, deeply flavorful sauce, packed full of fork-tender pork.
Of course, it would be delicious served over creamy polenta or pappardelle pasta, but it's over-the-top meatiness also makes it a good candidate for a hot Italian sandwich. Just spoon a generous amount of sauce onto an Italian roll, top with mozzarella and parm and broil until melty and bubbly.
Oh, and one more thing: It also freezes beautifully, and having a pint or two packed away in the freezer could definitely come in handy during the busy holiday season.
Slow-Braised Pork Ragù
Makes about 8 1/2 cups.
Meltingly tender pork in an ultra-thick, tomatoey sauce is a serious crowd-pleaser, which is good, as this recipe makes a large batch. Feel free to freeze some or all of it to have on hand to serve over polenta, with pasta, or as a filling for the world's best hot Italian sandwich. From Meredith Deeds.
• 2 1/2 lb. boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 2-in. pieces
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
• 1 large fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and finely chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1/4 c. tomato paste
• 1/2 c. red wine
• 1 (28-oz.) can whole, peeled tomatoes
• 2 c. chicken broth
• 1/2 c. heavy cream
• 4 sprigs thyme
• 2 sprigs rosemary
• 2 bay leaves
Pat the pork dry with paper towels and season with the salt and pepper.
In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat. Add half of the pork to the pot and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to a plate. Repeat with the remaining pork.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the same Dutch oven and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, carrots and fennel to the Dutch oven with the drippings and cook, stirring, until onion is softened, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, then add tomato paste and cook, stirring continuously, until tomato paste caramelizes and turns a rusty color, about 3 minutes. Add red wine and cook, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot, until liquid has evaporated.
Add tomatoes and their juices, crushing the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Stir in the broth, cream, thyme, rosemary and bay leaves. Add the browned pork with any juices accumulated on the plate.
Bring liquid to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, until pork is fall-apart tender and sauce is thickened (it will be thicker than a typical pasta sauce), about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Discard thyme and rosemary sprigs and bay leaves.
Using 2 forks, break up pork into pieces. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Serve pork ragù over pasta or polenta, as desired.
To make ahead: Let sauce cool, transfer into a container and freeze for up to 2 months.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.