Ragù with Pork Shoulder (Berlin, January 15, 2012)

So far this year I’ve managed to spend both of my weekends doing things unrelated to my dissertation. I’m going to try to keep this going. This may sound ridiculous, but when your work largely consists of self-guided research, it’s easy to stop following a schedule and to eventually erode the separation between work and play.

This might be my own hangup. Everyone who I’ve talked to at my stage in the process has a different style of working and I’ve come to realize that I’m a pattern-oriented person. I like to think that I have to be up at a certain hour, and I also need to feel as though I have the right to be done at a certain time. These times need to be fairly regular. I’ve always been envious of my friends with “9 to 5 jobs” who seem to be able to easily forget what happened the week before once Friday evening comes around.

I’ve decided to seriously try this out, because there’s no reason that we non-nine-to-fivers can’t do it as well. This means implementing some serious discipline during the week, but also making sure not to let things creep in on the weekends. It’s impossible, of course, to completely forget something you care about. Rather, what strikes me as important (and often difficult) is the ability to put mental and physical space between myself and the project and to gain some valuable perspective in doing so.

For me this means having something like a weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes. This kind of approach is definitely easier now that I’m taking a break from writing until I figure out what to do with the material I’ve been looking at for the last six months. In my experience, it’s the writing that tends to throw off my ability to stick to a regular schedule with built-in breaks.

As part of last weekend’s time off, Cesar and I made a true Sunday dinner. By that, I mean making a more-complex-than-usual meal and eating it in late afternoon, while the sun is still out but well after lunch time. The idea is to make something large enough so that actual dinner isn’t required- maybe some sort of snack late in the evening when you’re catching up on television. I hope this is going to be a lasting tradition, because it’s probably the best way I can think of to spend Sundays in rainy, cold Berlin.

To kick off the year, we made ragù. I’m not sure how authentic it is (we used pork shoulder instead of the traditional cuts used in Naples or the mince used in Bologna) but it was deeply satisfying and not a whole lot of work. It will definitely be making a return to the table before the cold weather is over.

Ragù with Pork Shoulder

Ingredients (Dinner for several, plus leftovers)

4 pounds or so pork shoulder, including bone

1 cup dry red wine, preferably Italian

1/2 cup fresh savory herbs (e.g. thyme, oregano, marjoram), minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

16 oz tinned whole peeled tomatoes

8 oz tomato purée

2 medium-sized yellow onions, chopped finely

6 oz (per person) of a broad pasta (e.g. penne, lasagnette, papardelle)

Olive oil

Salt and red pepper flakes or dried red chili to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

First, prepare the pork shoulder by dividing it into 3 or 4 hunks and dusting them with salt and black pepper, if you wish.

Pour a few tablespoons of olive oil into a dutch oven or a deep roasting pan and heat it over a medium flame. Add the hunks of pork shoulder and brown them in the pan, making sure to do this to all sides. Once the meat has been browned on all sides, remove it from the pan and set it aside on a plate.

Next, add the chopped onions to the still hot pan. If necessary, add another splash of olive oil Cook the onions until they become translucent, add the chopped garlic and herbs and stir until fragrant. Then reduce the heat to low and add the cup of wine, stirring to thoroughly deglaze the pan.

Add the tinned whole tomatoes to the pan and crush them with a potato masher or fork, or in your hands as you remove them from the tin (this last way is messiest but works the best). Then add half of the tomato purée, reserving the rest for later. Stir, add salt and a few pinches of chili to taste.

Next, add the pork pieces back to the pan, skin side up, and then transfer the whole thing to the hot oven. If you’re using a dutch oven, put on the lid, and if you’re using a roasting pan, cover with tin foil. Set the timer for 2.5 hours.

At this point, your work is basically done, so it’s best to pour yourself a glass of the wine you used to deglaze the pan, or a campari and soda if you’re feeling like an aperitif. The longer you let this roast, the better. Check the mixture once or twice to skim any oil that might have come to the surface of the pot, and to add the other half of the tomato purée if you find that too much liquid is evaporating. About an hour before done, uncover the pan so that the skin crisps.

Half an hour before time, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the box. Strain the pasta, and return it to the pot with a bit of butter, stirring to coat the noodles.

Serve this in two courses:

First course (pasta):  remove the pan from the oven, uncover and spoon some of the hot, meat-flavored sauce onto the pasta, stir well and serve with a bit of extra sauce. Re-cover the meat, turn off the oven and return the covered pot to the rack to keep warm until the second course.

Second course (meat and veg.): Slice the pork shoulder to get a cross-section (some of the crisped skin as well as the interior flesh) and serve with more of the sauce. Alongside the second course, it is absolutely necessary to serve a cooked bitter green like kale or rapini.

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