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Genius Pork Shoulder Ragu (a.k.a. The Instant Dinner Party)

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For me, and maybe for you, entertaining feels like a hurdle to be buckled down against—and I'm the Creative Director of a food and lifestyle company. Something is wrong here.

Photo by Linda Xiao

Maybe it's the swirl of unattainable scenes on Instagram and Pinterest, or the Genius Recipes moniker to live up to, or my ungenerous Brooklyn living space, but when did dinner parties get to be so scary? It doesn't have to be that way—right?


I believe it will one day come more easily—2016? Is that you?—but in the meantime, I rely on a sleeve full of cozy, disaster-proof recipes, and on people like Andy Ward and Jenny Rosenstrach to keep publishing blog posts like "Instant Dinner Party." Nothing could sound happier.

Photo by Linda Xiao

The recipe that makes a party—instantly—is their deliriously good, make-ahead pork shoulder ragu with pappardelle—the second most popular ever on their blog Dinner: A Love Story (only surpassed by Chicken Parm Meatballs, which went wild on Pinterest).

About the ragu, Jenny told me, "I think it was the only thing we cooked for dinner guests for, like, three years. Eventually not only for its logistical advantages but because it was so damn good!"

Photo by Linda Xiao

The logistical advantages are many: First, there's that "instant" claim—you can make the ragu completely ahead, even a day or two before, so that a dinner party could happen at any moment.

This ragu-making all happens in one pot. You don't even bother cutting the pork down into chunks, or taking it out of the pot after you brown it. Why would you? It's going to cook forever, till it falls to smithereens, anyway.

Photo by Linda Xiao

Once you brown the whole hunk and nudge some onions and garlic around it, the rest is a matter of tossing in whole ingredients—sprigs of thyme and oregano, a handful of fennel seeds, red wine, a can of tomatoes, and, importantly, hot sauce—then leaving it mostly in peace in your oven for 3 to 4 hours.

By the end, it will have braised into a soft, wobbly heap that shreds cleanly at the pull of a fork, sinking into the sauce. Whether you serve it that day or reheat it for a party tomorrow, "It will make the house smell amazing," Jenny said, "Which, in my opinion, counts for more than flower arrangements when having dinner guests." (I agree! I'll do this too!)

Photo by Linda Xiao

Time and a slow oven did the lion's share of the work to make a sauce that's rich and heady and perfectly spicy from a full tablespoon of hot sauce. Or perfectly spicy for adults, at least. "Best of all," Jenny told me. "If there are kids coming over, and they don't like the ragu, we can usually count on them liking the pasta with a little Parm—so it minimizes drama on that end, too." And whatever ragu is left behind is a boon: over polenta, in tacos, on sandwiches, or frozen and awaiting more dinners.

So this is actually the no-drama, great-smelling, cooks-itself, freezable, instant dinner party. That, I can do.

Photo by Linda Xiao
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Andy Ward & Jenny Rosenstrach's Pork Shoulder Ragu

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Serves 6
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast, tied with twine if there are any loose pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small pat butter
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 5 sprigs fresh oregano
  • Small handful of fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce, for smokiness (Andy used Trader Joe's Hot Chili Sauce, but Sriracha and Tabasco both work great, too)
  • Pappardelle
  • Freshly grated Parmesan

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].