Serves a Crowd

Sunday Pork Ragu

April 29, 2011
6 Ratings
  • Serves at least 4 with lots of leftover sauce
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 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!

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Patricia Brehmer
    Patricia Brehmer
  • loubaby
  • Shalini
  • Pat E. in SLO
    Pat E. in SLO
  • lapadia
In 2009, after living more than twenty years in NYC, my husband, young daughter and I packed up our lives and embarked on a grand adventure, moving to Victoria, B.C. There are many things that we miss about New York (among them ripe, vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh ravioli and New York bagels), but, I have to admit, that living in the Pacific Northwest has been pretty amazing food-wise. Now we have a yard with plum and apple trees, a raspberry and strawberry patch and a Concord grape arbor. I have a vegetable and herb garden, so I can grow at least some of our food. And we have an amazing farmer's market a block from our house. I love cooking (and eating) seasonally and locally. And it's been very rewarding introducing my daughter to cooking and eating, and teaching her where our food comes from.

100 Reviews

Patricia B. September 24, 2015
OMG! It was so delicious and tasteful. I followed your suggestion and seasoned the pork with ground fennel, crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano, and made them into meatballs. I have never tasted that kind of flavor in meatballs, but it was REALLY GOOD! The tomato sauce was also good, but for some reason the canned tomatoes in Denmark is a little tart, so next time I'll probably make my own. Also, I did find some bones with meat on, which I am glad I did, cause the kitchen smelled so good.


Ps. if you want to see the result, I did tag you on Instagram
Patricia B. September 15, 2015
Can I use ground pork instead of Italian sausage? The reason why I'm asking is that I live i Denmark and we don't have italian sasauge here.
cookinginvictoria September 15, 2015
Hi Patricia, Yes, you can totally use ground pork. I would either crumble it or form it into little meatballs (with the addition of some breadcrumbs and egg as a little binder) before adding it to the ragu. I would also add some seasoning to the pork (fennel seed, crushed red pepper, and perhaps some dried oregano). Hope you enjoy, :)
Patricia B. September 15, 2015
Thank you so much for your quick answer. another question, is it bones with meat on or just clean bones?
cookinginvictoria September 15, 2015
If you can source them, bones with at least a little meat on them are the best! I promise that your diners will pluck them out of the sauce and enjoy gnawing on them. Or after the sauce cooks, you can remove the meat from the bones and just add it back into the ragu before plating it. Let me know how it turns out for you!
Patricia B. September 16, 2015
Thank you so much for your answers! I'll let you know how it went, but you probably have to wait until next week :-)
drh February 8, 2015
Help! I was so excited to see country style pork ribs, that I mistakenly bought ...BONELESS ribs. Can these be used, or should I just freeze and save them for when I make a regular pasta sauce with meatballs? Also, is there just a pasta recipe that uses only boneless pork ribs without the sausage? As you can see i'm desperately trying to save the day by using these boneless ribs in something else, while being cognizant to pick up boned ribs next time!

I'm really new here and have already tried recipes found...most to my very proud delight. I do know how to cook, and quite well...however...always the same things, so maybe it's just been a case of 'practice makes perfect' which is why I am so thrilled to be here reading these scrumptious recipes and all of your very helpful comments. I certainly do need to 'branch out' so any suggestions will certainly be so welcome :)
cookinginvictoria February 8, 2015
Hi drh, So glad that you want to make my recipe! Yes, go ahead and use the boneless ribs. I would cut them in smaller pieces if they are big and brown them on the stovetop (with a little olive oil) before adding them to the ragu. The bones do give a unique flavor to the sauce (so I encourage you to try the bones next time), but using boneless ribs will still make a delicious ragu. Let me know how it turns out. :)
drh February 8, 2015
Thank you so much for your help. I too love the richness bones impart in a dish, but will try this with the boneless ribs I have, and will make sure to tamp my enthusiasm next time at the market by paying attention to what i'm purchasing! I was so overwhelmed at how gorgeous these looked and with the thoughts of finally making this dish, that I neglected to pay attention to the absence of the bones!! Plus the fact that i'm really not a meat eater...felt kind of silly when I realized what I had done.

Also though unrelated...can I post a recipe of my own without needing to enter a contest? I haven't found a way to do it yet.

Thanks again, and will let you know how my boneless ribs turned out :)
cookinginvictoria February 8, 2015
I too have gotten carried away with buying beautiful ingredients and then realized when I got home, that they may not have been exactly what I meant to purchase. But no matter . . . that's part of the challenge and the fun of home cooking. :)

Yes, you can definitely post a recipe without entering a contest. Click on this link: Under the photo, click add a new recipe to access the new recipe template. Enter your recipe. At the bottom where it says "Submit My Recipe to a Contest," keep it as set to "Active Contests," then hit save. Your recipe will be saved as a new recipe but will not be entered into the Bean Contest.
cookinginvictoria February 8, 2015
The other way to get to the new recipe template is let your cursor hover over the Recipes tab on the toolbar at the top of every page. The first option is "Add a Recipe." Just click on that and you will be able to enter and post your recipe.
drh February 8, 2015
Yes...I seem to be doing exactly that! I do love to cook and this site has breathed a fresh enthusiasm for it...although with a bit of intimidation in unfamiliar areas. I just love hearing what others have to say, and have become more adventurous since here.

Thanks so much again, and I now see where to post. Who knows...maybe one day I'll enter a contest??
GardenStater February 18, 2014
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?
cookinginvictoria February 8, 2015
Apologize for the late answer to your comment -- just seeing this now. Yes, you would want to use 2 large cans (28 ounces each) of tomatoes and 1 small can (5.5 ounces) of tomato paste. I find those proportions to be perfect; however, when my mother makes this sauce, she prefers to use two small cans of tomato paste. This recipe is very adaptable. :)
mrstkach July 7, 2013
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!
cookinginvictoria July 8, 2013
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!
loubaby May 29, 2012
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.
Shalini March 27, 2012
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!
Shalini March 27, 2012
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!
Shalini March 27, 2012
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!
sdunleavy January 22, 2012
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.
woody December 6, 2011
Pat E. November 13, 2011
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
Pat E. November 13, 2011
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
bella S. November 7, 2011
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.
orman September 12, 2011
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!
stashe May 15, 2011
sunday pork ragu was a big hit and my dinner table this evening. perfect dish, put all my other pasta dishes to shame. Bravo!
cookinginvictoria May 16, 2011
Oh wow, stashe! I am so happy that you tried the ragu and liked it. Thanks so much for the kudos.
ellenl May 13, 2011
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!!!
cookinginvictoria May 16, 2011
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.
Under5Ingredients May 11, 2011
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....
cookinginvictoria May 16, 2011
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)!
lapadia May 11, 2011
Congratulations, cookinginvictoria!!! I look forward to seeing and using your recipe from Food52's Book2...
cookinginvictoria May 16, 2011
Thank you, lapadia. Looking forward to trying your roasted rhubarb and baby spring greens recipe. Love rhubarb in any way, shape or form!
cookinginvictoria May 11, 2011
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!
Lillasyster May 11, 2011
Well done! Now I really must scout out a London source for real Italian sausage . . .
cookinginvictoria May 16, 2011
Yes, British sausage just wouldn't taste the same, LOL!