Sunday Pork Ragu

By • April 29, 2011 • 87 Comments

1,584 Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!


Author Notes: I loved the idea of this contest, but I found it difficult to come up with just one recipe. I come from a family of really wonderful cooks. For us, sitting down to a meal is not just about eating to nourish our bodies, but food provides comfort, sustenance, and, most of all, love. The recipe that I finally decided to submit is one that I grew up eating, and throughout my childhood, was my favorite dish. I first tasted it in my great-grandmother's kitchen. She immigrated to America from Italy, and she was an extraordinary cook. I remember that she had a brick oven in her backyard, where she would make homemade pizza and bread. She would make ravioli on her kitchen table and roll the dough out with a broomstick handle. But the dish that she is really remembered for, by everyone in my family, is her Sunday sauce. This is the ragu that she made every Sunday morning before going to church. She would serve it in the afternoon as part of an elaborate Sunday dinner to her husband, children, and grandchildren. When my great-grandmother's son married a young Irish woman (my grandmother) she had to learn how to make this sauce. When my grandparents' son (my father) married my mother (who is of Mexican descent) my great-grandmother taught my mother how to make this sauce. Now I make it as well. But like all of the women in my family, I have slightly altered the ingredients and cooking techniques to make the sauce my own. But despite the changes I have made, I still consider this the sauce that I grew up eating. I now make this sauce for my own six-year-old daughter, and it is my hope that when she grows up, she will make it for her children and remember its roots. This is not week-day evening cooking, when dinner can be on the table in 30 minutes. If I want to make a pasta sauce on weekday evenings, I usually turn to a fresh pomodoro sauce or an aglio e olio sauce. No, this is a weekend sauce, ideally made on a Sunday, when the cook cannot be rushed. It takes time to roast the meats, simmer the sauce, and taste the ingredients as they come together. But it is the most rewarding dish thatI know how to make, and despite its simplicity, it always receives accolades.

Some cooking notes: What gives this sauce its incomparable flavor is the pork, so don't be tempted to substitute another ingredient. Go to a butcher shop and get homemade Italian sausages. I guarantee that you will taste the difference in the sauce. As for the bones, the best cut is neck bones, which is what my mother uses. However, I find these hard to source, so really any small pork bones will do. I have used spare ribs, pork side bones, and a farmer at my local greenmarket sells me pork soup bones. All have worked well. Do not discard the bones after you have made the sauce. They are wonderful to gnaw on. (In fact, the bones were my grandfather's, my mother's and my favorite parts of this dish to eat. We used to fight over who got to eat them!) As for the tomatoes, use really good quality tomatoes. You can definitely taste the difference. I like Muir Glen organic Roma tomatoes. Try to find a brand without a lot of added salt. And any sort of dried pasta will work with this dish, but I like a shape with some ridges and corners that the sauce can cling to. Penne Rigate or rigatoni are both good choices. My favorite pasta brands are Italian imports -- Latini and Rustichella D'Abruzzo. Once you have tasted pasta made from bronze casts, you will never go back to supermarket pastas. - cookinginvictoria
cookinginvictoria

Food52 Review: We're suckers for an old school ragu that calls for actual bones, and the fact that this is an all-pork sauce really piqued our interest. Cookinginvictoria has composed a Sunday sauce worthy of passing on -- it's uncomplicated, and nothing is done without good reason. She roasts pork bones and both hot and sweet sausage before bathing them in tomatoes and aromatics and then lets everything bubble gently for several hours -- as cookinginvictoria writes, "honestly you cannot cook this sauce too much." The finished sauce is vibrant red, studded with chunks of sausage and flecked with lots of fresh parsley, an herb that is too often employed as a garnish and not for its clean, grassy flavor. You can pluck out the bones before serving, but we preferred to leave them in -- just make sure to warn your eaters! - A&MThe Editors

Serves at least 4 with lots of leftover sauce

  • 3/4 pound pork bones (see head note), cut into approximately 2-inch pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons salt (or more to taste), divided
  • 5 links sweet Italian sausage
  • 3 links, spicy Italian sausage
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 6 small garlic cloves (about 3/4 ounce)
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 1 small can (5.5 oz) tomato paste
  • 2 large (28 ounces each) cans good-quality tomatoes (see head note)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 pound dried pasta (a shape such as rigatoni or penne is best -- see head note)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, julienned
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese (or more to taste)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with sides with aluminum foil. Place a baking rack over the foil and place the ribs on the rack. There should be a little space between each rib. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place baking pan in oven and roast for 30-40 minutes (the bigger pieces you may have to turn halfway through) until nicely browned and caramelized. Remove pan from oven and with tongs take each rib off the rack. Place on a paper-towel lined plate to further drain.
  2. On cutting board, carefully remove casings from sausage. Slice each link into four pieces, or simply pinch off balls of sausage about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Set each piece of sausage on wire rack (no need to wash the rack beforehand). Place baking pan in oven and roast for about 30 minutes, or until sausage is browned and caramelized. It usually is not necessary to turn the sausage, but you can if you wish. Remove pan from oven and turn off oven.
  3. On cutting board, cut onion into medium-small dice. Thinly slice garlic cloves, then roughly chop. (You don't want the garlic pieces too small or they will burn.) Heat a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add olive oil. When oil has warmed, add onion and saute until just beginning to turn golden brown (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Add garlic to pan and stir frequently. When the garlic aroma becomes heady and fragrant (watch carefully to make sure garlic is not browning too quickly), clear a hot spot in the pan with your wooden spoon. Add tomato paste and saute until the tomatoes begins to release their fragrance. Mix tomato paste with onion and garlic mixture and add 5.5 ounces of water to pan. (Easiest way to do this is to simply fill tomato paste can with water.) Drain juice from canned tomatoes and reserve about a cup of it. Add bay leaf and tomatoes to pan. You can add tomatoes whole -- they will cook down. Or simply cut each tomato into about four pieces with kitchen shears before adding them to the pot.
  4. Bring tomato-onion-garlic mixture to a simmer and add pork bones and sausages, nestling them carefully into the sauce. You want enough meat to flavor the sauce, but not so much that it overwhelms the tomato sauce. Lower heat and cook tomato sauce at a low simmer for about two hours, stirring occasionally. During the first hour of cooking, if level of sauce in the pan begins to evaporate, add reserved tomato liquid, as needed. After the first hour of cooking, add water to the sauce instead if sauce is looking too thick. The sauce will smell wonderful as it cooks, infusing your home with pork and tomato aromas. Inhale and savor, and pour yourself a glass of your favorite red wine.
  5. After about two hours of cooking, begin to add salt, about 1 teaspoon at a time. Let sauce cook for about 15 minutes, so that the salt's flavor can be absorbed before adding more. Add a few grinds of fresh black pepper and the parsley. Taste and adjust the seasonings until the flavors are to your liking. Continue to cook for another half hour or so. (Total cooking time should be at least 2 1/2 to 3 hours, but honestly you cannot cook this sauce too much. The longer it simmers, the better it will taste.)
  6. About half an hour before you are ready to eat, fill a large stockpot with water. Bring to a boil and add a tablespoon or two of salt. Taste it and see if you can taste the salt. If you can't taste the salt, then add a little more. When water is rapidly boiling, add dried pasta. Give a good stir with a slotted spoon and bring back to a boil. Cook for about eight minutes, then begin tasting the pasta. When it is al dente (just slightly chewy, but not hard) drain pasta, but reserve a cup or two of the cooking water.
  7. If the sauce looks too thick, add a ladle or two of pasta water. Warm a big spaghetti serving bowl with some of the pasta water. Add a ladleful of sauce to the bottom of the bowl. Top with a tablespoon or two of cheese. Add a few large spoonfuls of pasta. Top with sauce, more cheese and a sprinkling of basil. Add another layer of pasta, sauce, cheese and basil. Keep layering the ingredients until the bowl is full. Add bones and sausage around the edges of the bowl. Top with a handful of basil and more cheese.
  8. Serve pasta in bowls with additional grated cheese and basil. Pour some more red wine, and serve with warm bread. Enjoy!
Jump to Comments (87)

Tags: can be made ahead, comfort food, Entrees, fall, family, Italian, kid-friendly, savory, serves a crowd, serves a crowd, Spring, Versatile, winter

Comments (87) Questions (7)

Default-small
Default-small
Default-small

9 months ago GardenStater

Only one can of tomatoes? That seems like not enough. And in the photo you show two cans. That would be my preference. Any thoughts?

Default-small

over 1 year ago mrstkach

Obviously "Woody" didn't use the best ingredients. This is my second time making this and unfortunately I only have cooked it for 2 hours and am going to serve it soon (hubby is starving) but it is already amazing anyways! Pork bones could use more time, but that's my fault for not giving myself enough time to cook. Later this week it will be even better! Thanks!

Cimg0737

over 1 year ago cookinginvictoria

So happy to hear that you are a fan of this recipe, mrstkach! This sauce does get more flavorful the longer it simmers, but I have also cooked it for just a few hours and it's been delicious. So long as you have pork bones in the sauce, it should be very tasty indeed!

Black_picture_small

over 2 years ago loubaby

I made this yesterday; ;cooked for about 4 hours and was delicious...very rich, hearty and thick. Thanks so much for sharing it....I love these old family recipes.

Photo_on_2014-07-11_at_6.17_pm

over 2 years ago Shalini

I had totally forgotten about this recipe and came across it again today. We made it sometime last year and it was really, really good. Can't wait to try it again, I remember the smell from the roasting bones was incredible!

Photo_on_2014-07-11_at_6.17_pm

over 2 years ago Shalini

I had totally forgotten about this recipe and came across it again today. We made it sometime last year and it was really, really good. Can't wait to try it again, I remember the smell from the roasting bones was incredible!

Photo_on_2014-07-11_at_6.17_pm

over 2 years ago Shalini

I had totally forgotten about this recipe and came across it again today. We made it sometime last year and it was really, really good. Can't wait to try it again, I remember the smell from the roasting bones was incredible!

Default-small

almost 3 years ago sdunleavy

Made this yesterday with fresh pork neck bones. What a difference. The best part was tasting this sauce after the first hour (could taste the tomato paste) then after the 8th hour... Yes I let it go for 8. It was perfect. The onion was just melting in your mouth. I didn't break down the tomatoes and left them whole and they just blended and mashed themselves. The bite of pork ran through the entire sauce and you didn't even need to have pork in your spoon! My family was fighting over the bones. This was so balanced and will be on my weekend dinner rotation.

Default-small

almost 3 years ago woody

memorable???NOT

Image

about 3 years ago Pat in SoCal

Yum! Very nice recipe. Followed it almost exactly... Beef broth instead of water...a dash of chili flakes....
Some cubes of fresh mozzarella buried in the finished product. Really wonderful. Thanks so much! It's a keeper

Image

about 3 years ago Pat in SoCal

Yum! Very nice recipe. Followed it almost exactly... Beef broth instead of water...a dash of chili flakes....
Some cubes of fresh mozzarella buried in the finished product. Really wonderful. Thanks so much! It's a keeper

Default-small

about 3 years ago bella s.f.

Whenever I would make a pot of "old fashioned" pasta sauce with meatballs and sausage, I always added some bone-in country style pork ribs. They gave the sauce a great flavor. The meat from the ribs was also quite yummy to eat. It may be time to do that again. By the way, we live that wonderful life where winter Sundays mean turning on football and making something that cooks most of the day. You tend to it now and then, the house smells great, and there is a great meal ahead. Since we tend to cook for the fleet, there are always wonderful leftovers to look forward to. Comfort that keeps om giving.

Default-small

about 3 years ago orman

I made this yesterday with some friends. This was unbelievably good. I had wanted to make a Sunday pork ragu after watching Anthony Bourdain: Naples a few weeks ago. I tweaked it a little bit: I used 6 sausage links in total and I put whole ribs in the sauce because we couldn't cut the bones in half. Not sure if the bone marrow got into the sauce though. I grilled the ribs on some foil and did the same for the sausage. Total cooking time of 4 hours. The meet fell off of the rib bones at about 2 hours into cooking. We were all super, super impressed with this sauce. I work at an upscale italian restaurant in virginia, and this is comparable to the old Roman family recipes we use in the restaurant. Best sauce I have ever made! It is a must try for anyone interested. Thank you for posting this!

Default-small

over 3 years ago stashe

sunday pork ragu was a big hit and my dinner table this evening. perfect dish, put all my other pasta dishes to shame. Bravo!

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Oh wow, stashe! I am so happy that you tried the ragu and liked it. Thanks so much for the kudos.

Default-small

over 3 years ago ellenl

Congratulations! I printed out your recipe (I don't know how to save) the moment I saw it posted. I was also sure then that it was a real winner!!!

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you, ellenl! Next time you want to save a recipe, just look at the toolbar right underneath the recipe's photo. First icon is Share; the Save icon is the fifth one in. You can access the recipes you save on your profile page. I find this feature to be pretty handy. I save a ton of recipes on this site -- it makes it easer to find them, especially I can't recall the name of a certain recipe or the cook who posted it.

Default-small

over 3 years ago Under5Ingredients

Wow! I wish you lived closer, Paula, so you could try out all your new cookware on Warren and me. Congrats! Now I want to buy the cookbook....

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you, Laura! Maybe you and Warren will come visit us next time you are in the Pacific Northwest? Would so love to see you (and cook for you)!

Massimo's_deck_reflection_10_27_13

over 3 years ago lapadia

Congratulations, cookinginvictoria!!! I look forward to seeing and using your recipe from Food52's Book2...

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you, lapadia. Looking forward to trying your roasted rhubarb and baby spring greens recipe. Love rhubarb in any way, shape or form!

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

What a fabulous morning this has been! Wow, I have to keep pinching myself. Thank you everyone so much for the wonderful words and support! I am so honored by this. I love, love food52. This is such an amazing and generous online community. I am constantly inspired by all of the creativity and talent on display here, and I have learned so much from all of you!

Default-small

over 3 years ago Lillasyster

Well done! Now I really must scout out a London source for real Italian sausage . . .

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Yes, British sausage just wouldn't taste the same, LOL!

Food52_photo

over 3 years ago ENunn

Congratulations! I cannot wait to try this. Might make it for a SATURDAY dinner party. Crazy!

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thanks, ENunn! I am so glad that you would like to make this recipe for a dinner party. If you try it, please let me know what you think.

Summer_2010_1048

over 3 years ago Midge

Congrats on your win!

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you, Midge!

Dsc_0122.nef-1

over 3 years ago Panfusine

Congratulations, well deserved! The dish looks so beautiful & tempting even for a vegetarian!!

Cimg0737

over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Thank you so much, Panfusine! Yes, the pork is pretty integral to this dish. I have a Jewish friend who has asked me to develop a kosher version of this recipe. I'll have to put my thinking cap on and see what I can come up with!