serves: 6 cups
I love ground-meat sauces that cook slowly for hours, allowing an exchange of flavors between the meat, cooking liquids, and seasonings and concentrating them into a dense, delicious dressing. Emilia-Romagna is famous for such sauces, the classic Ragù alla Bolognese and Ragù di Carni Bianche among them. This Abruzzese sauce is quite similar in its procedures, though it uses only pork rather than a mixture of ground meats. It also has some of the typical flavoring touches of the region, notably a generous dash of peperoncino and a greater volume of tomatoes, rendering it a bit more acidic and definitely more lively than a conventional, mellow Bolognese. It’s a great dressing for homemade maccheroni alla chitarra, and wonderful with other pastas, too. At home, whenever I’m preparing a dish like this that takes a long time—and yields such delicious results—I make more of it than I need for one occasion. Another great, effortless meal is a good reward for the hours and effort devoted to cooking the sauce. That’s why I have formulated this recipe to yield enough ragù to dress a pound of maccheroni or other pasta on the day it is cooked, with an equal amount to pack away in the freezer.
For the sauce
1 cup onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup carrot, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 cup celery , cut in 1-inch chunks
2 pounds ground pork butt, freshly ground preferred
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
4 cups hot chicken, turkey, or vegetable stock, or hot water, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons fresh basil (about 12 large leaves), chopped, for cooking and finishing the pasta
1 pound (1 batch) Homemade Maccheroni alla Chitarra , or other pasta
1 cup freshly grated pecorino, plus more for passing
For the sauce
You will need a food processor; a heavy saucepan, such as enameled cast iron, 10-inch diameter or wider, 4-quart capacity, with a cover, for cooking the meat sauce; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or wider, for dressing the pasta.
Drop the chunks of onion, carrot, and celery into the food processor, and mince finely to an even textured pestata. Dump the ground pork into a large bowl and break up any lumps. Pour the olive oil into the big saucepan, and set over medium-high heat. Scrape in the pestata, stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt, and spread it around the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, as the vegetables wilt and dry, until they just begin to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes. Drop the peperoncino into a hot spot on the pan bottom for a few moments, then stir it into the pestata. Lower the heat to medium, drop in the bay leaves, then scatter the ground pork into the pan, breaking up any clumps of meat with your fingers. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon salt over it, and stir everything together. Keep tossing the meat and breaking up any clumps until it starts sizzling and releasing its juices. Raise the heat a bit, and cook until all the meat juices have evaporated— about 15 minutes—stirring frequently. When the meat is dry and lightly caramelized, pour in the white wine, stir well, raise the heat a bit more, and simmer until the wine has evaporated completely, about 2 or 3 minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, and stir with the meat. Slosh the tomato containers with 2 cups of hot stock or water (to get all the good juices), and stir this into the sauce along with the chopped basil. Set the cover on the pot, and bring the sauce to a simmer, then set the cover slightly ajar, and adjust the heat to keep it bubbling gently. Simmer the sauce for about an hour, letting it reduce slowly, then stir in another cup or so of hot stock, so the meat is just covered by liquid. Let the sauce cook and reduce for another hour, then stir in the fourth cup of stock, or more if needed, and simmer for another hour—3 hours total. If the sauce is thin, uncover the pot and cook over higher heat, stirring, to reduce and concentrate to a consistency you like. Adjust the seasoning, stirring in more salt to taste. You can use some or all of the sauce right away, or let it cool, then refrigerate or freeze any amount. Cooled or chilled sauce will have thickened; reheat it slowly, stirring in more stock or water to loosen it.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water (6 quarts or more) to the boil. To dress the whole 1-poundbatch of maccheroni, put 3 cups or so of the meat sauce into the wide skillet; loosen with stock or water if necessary, and heat to a simmer. Shake excess flour off the fresh maccheroni, and drop the strands into the boiling water, stirring and separating the strands. Return the water to a rolling boil, and cook the pasta for about 4 minutes, until barely al dente. Quickly lift out the maccheroni and drop them into the skillet. Continuously toss the pasta in the simmering sauce until all the strands are coated and perfectly al dente. Adjust the consistency of the sauce if necessary: thin it with hot pasta water, or thicken it quickly by cooking down over higher heat. Turn off the heat, sprinkle a cup or so of grated cheese over the maccheroni, and toss well. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss again, and heap the pasta in warm bowls. Serve immediately, with more cheese at the table.