I recently married into an Italian family. For a food, wine and family-loving person like myself, it couldn’t be a more perfect fit. And let me tell you, from my experience the stereotype holds true — they love food. Everybody has a signature recipe. While each is made with love, there are definitely some I’m more inclined to enjoy (almond paste cookies) than others (tripe stew).
As an official Italian-by-law, this holiday season I decided it was about time I developed a signature dish of my own. And since I spent most of my husband’s and my courtship positioning myself as an obsessive foodie, I knew I’d need to bring the big guns. That’s where this pork ragù and creamy polenta enters the picture. It’s a true showstopper of a special occasion meal.
Pork shoulder (also known as Boston butt — tenderloin is too lean for this dish) is browned and then braised for hours in a combination of vegetables, tomato, red wine and herbs, until finally all of the ingredients melt into a beautiful, velvety red sauce that’s home to the most fall-apart tender pork you’ve ever eaten. It’s rich with that “all-day cooked” flavor that the Italians are so famous for, and trust me, it’s worth the time and effort. (And to be truthful, much of the cook time is hands-off so you get an impressive depth of flavor for the effort required.)
It’s common for pork ragù to be served over pasta, but in order to make this dish extra special and worthy of a food-loving family’s holiday table, I chose to serve it over creamy polenta. This polenta recipe, in particular, is incredibly simple but beautifully smooth and flavorful due to the addition of extra virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese. It’s important to use high-quality ingredients here due to the simplicity of the recipe components, but there’s no better time to pull out that special bottle of olive oil or to splurge on a great block of parm than during the holidays, right?
This crowd-pleasing dish is meant to serve a party and, as we all know, the best parties are those where the food is plentiful and the wine flows generously. At this year’s holiday gathering, serve this dish alongside Kendall-Jackson’s Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a beautiful wine for a special occasion meal and its notes of deep black cherry and rich minerality make it the perfect wine to compliment the bold flavors of this meaty ragu. Enjoy!
Pork Ragù and Creamy Polenta
For the pork ragù:
- 3 pounds skinless, boneless pork shoulder, cut into two pieces
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 7 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small carrot, chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (do not strain)
- 1 ½ cups water
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- Basil or parsley, for serving
For the creamy polenta:
- ½ tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ cups polenta (coarse ground cornmeal, not quick-cooking)
- ¼ cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
Pair with a bottle of Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
To prepare the pork ragù:
- Pat pork shoulder dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the pork shoulder and brown evenly on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Once browned transfer to a platter or cutting board and set aside.
- Pour off the excess pork fat, taking care to wipe any burned, black bits from the bottom of the pot. If you prefer, and it’s without too many burned pieces, you can choose to reserve some of the pork fat for cooking the vegetables. If not, add the extra virgin olive oil to the bottom of the pan.
- Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery to the pan and cook until vegetables are soft and have begun to caramelize, 10-15 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and stir well. Cook for another 3-4 minutes or until thick. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping up any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan and cook until the red wine has reduced by half.
- Add the tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you go, then add all the remaining tomato liquid and the water.
- Tie the thyme and rosemary with kitchen twine and add to the pot along with the oregano and crushed red pepper. Add the pork back to the pot.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 2.5 – 3 hours, or until the sauce has thickened and the pork is tender. If the sauce is not reducing, you can remove the cover from the pan completely and cook uncovered for the last hour.
- Remove the pork from the sauce and place on a cutting board to cool for 10-15 minutes. Use two forks or your fingers to shred the meat, then add the pork back to the pot and stir well. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
To prepare the polenta:
- Add the salt and 6 cups of water to a large pot and bring to a boil.
- Whisking constantly to avoid lumps, slowly add the polenta. Cook, stirring often, until the polenta is thick and tender, about 25 minutes. If the polenta thickens too quickly, you may need to add more water.
- Add the olive oil and parmesan and mix well. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
- To serve, spoon the hot polenta into bowls and top with pork. Garnish with chopped herbs and more parmesan cheese. Then pour a glass of Jackson Estate Hawkeye Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
Note: The pork can be made several days in advance and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The polenta should be served immediately after cooking as it will thicken in the refrigerator. The pork can also be served atop pasta.
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