Bucatini Pasta with Pork Ragu

December 22, 2015

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: I grew up in Italy from the ages of 6 to 12 and eating authentic, delicious Italian food during those formative years really taught me how Italian food should taste. I struggle to find good Italian restaurants that meet my standards, so I take matters into my own kitchen, where I recreate some of that Italian deliciousness from my youth.

This pasta is one of my favorites and it fills me with warmth and comfort every time I prepare it. The slow-simmering pork ragu makes the house smell like heaven and every bite of this hearty and creamy pasta transports me to the Italian countryside. It is a bit laborious, but I promise it’s worth it!

And it is the best thing I ate all year :).

You can use any pasta (rigatoni, penne, or spaghetti work great) but I really love the bucatini. Because of its thickness and hollow center, bucatini goes great with hearty sauces like this one. It’s like having the best of both worlds: the fun, fork-twirling experience of spaghetti and the sauce-catching power of tubular pasta like penne. And I highly recommend investing in good-quality cheeses—it makes a huge difference. Buon appetito!

Note: I like to finish this sauce with a teaspoon or so of authentic, high-quality Italian balsamic vinegar. It's how the Italians do it and I think a touch of acidity really balances the sauce. But it is optional.
Jenya | BlueGalley

Food52 Review: WHO: Jenya | BlueGalley is a blogger living in California.
WHAT: A rich, long-simmered pork ragu, spooned over bucatini.
HOW: Pork sausage and pancetta team up with mirepoix, anchovies, red wine, tomatoes, Calabrian peppers, and a long time on the stove for a well-rounded and deeply flavorful pasta sauce.
WHY WE LOVE IT: We imagine this recipe as one a grandmother would make for a big Sunday dinner. It takes a fair amount of time to put together, but after a couple of hours simmering, the result is a sauce with rich, deep flavor (and one that really does benefit from the balsamic, just as Jenya | BlueGalley says!)
The Editors

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 4 ounces pancetta or bacon (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 1 medium onion (or half a large one)
  • 4 large garlic cloves (or more if they are small)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tablespoon dry oregano)
  • 2 to 3 anchovies
  • 2 dry hot Calabrian chile peppers, crumbled (or 1/4 teaspoon regular hot pepper flakes)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (preferably Italian, from San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 28 ounces can of San Marzano tomatoes (can use regular, but it won't be the same!)
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 pound bucatini pasta
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese (plus more for serving)
  • 1/3 cup grated fresh pecorino cheese (can just use Parmesan if not available; just add an extra 1/3 cup)
  • 2 or more cups water
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Very high quality balsamic vinegar to taste (optional)
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Slice the pancetta or bacon into strips if using. Alternatively, you can cube a slab of either as well. Remove the sausage from the casings.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta or bacon first. Cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently until browned and crispy; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside. Add the ground pork and sausage, breaking up the meat and mixing it with the back of a spoon or the tip of a spatula. Try to break the meat into even pieces.
  3. Remove half of the meat from the pan and make sure heat is on high. Now cook the first batch without touching and let it sizzle for a 3 minutes. You want to get the meat nice and brown and get some “brown bits” on the bottom of the pan. This is FLAVOR for the sauce! Repeat with second batch. Remove meat with slotted spoon, leaving as much fat as possible in the pan. Add the meat to the pancetta/bacon.
  4. Prepare the vegetables: Chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Thinly slice the garlic and chop the Calabrian hot peppers. Note: Don’t worry about being perfect with the chopping because you will be puréeing all the vegetables anyway with an immersion blender. This is just so they cook evenly. Also chop the parsley, fresh oregano, and anchovies.
  5. Heat leftover meat fat in the pan over medium heat and add the last tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and hot pepper to the pan. Cook on medium heat until vegetables are soft and onions are translucent, about 8 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low if the vegetables are browning. While they are cooking, season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a little regular salt) and a few grinds of fresh black pepper.
  6. While the vegetables cook, mix 1 tablespoon tomato paste with 1 cup of water. Open the can of San Marzano tomatoes (yes, you can use regular tomatoes…but it just won’t be the same!), pour into a bowl and use your hands to crush them. Make sure your hand is submerged in the sauce when crushing or you’ll get tomato sauce flying everywhere! Again, don’t worry about them being perfect, since you will puree them anyway.
  7. Add the chopped anchovies, parsley, and oregano to the vegetables. Cook for 2 minutes more, stirring well. Turn up the heat and add the 1/4 cup red wine, scraping the bottom to release the caramelized meat bits. Let the alcohol cook off for a few minutes, then add the tomato paste and water mixture. Stir and let the mixture boil for 5 minutes.
  8. Add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes to the pan, mix, and cook 2 more minutes. Now use an immersion blender to blend everything into a smooth, creamy sauce. Add a couple of pinches of sugar and kosher salt and 2 more grinds of black pepper. We’re building flavor here… slowly.
  9. Now add the meat to the pan and stir to combine. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Then lower heat to as low as you can get it so the pot barely bubbles. Cover with lid leaving just a little gap and let it simmer for the next few hours. 3 and a half hours does the trick, but 4 is better and 5 is perfect. You want to stir the sauce every 45 minutes if you can, and add some water when the sauce gets so thick that the meat is poking out. After a few hours, your sauce should be perfect and you won't be able to stop tasting it! Now is the time to add a little balsamic vinegar if you're using it (see note).
  10. Fill a large pot with water, add a couple of dashes of salt, and bring to a boil. Cook the bucatini about 8 minutes. You want the pasta to be slightly underdone. As it gets close to being done, scoop out 2 cups of the pasta water.
  11. Drain the bucatini and add to the sauce, along with about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Simmer for 4 minutes until pasta is perfectly done and the sauce has thickened. The starch in the pasta water helps thicken the sauce.
  12. Turn off heat, add the other 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and 1/3 cup grated pecorino (or just 3/4 cup Parmesan). Mix everything together.
  13. Carefully scoop the bucatini into bowls, adding some sauce on top. Sprinkle with more freshly grated cheese and a little chopped parsley for some color. Give it a few grinds of fresh pepper if you’d like.

More Great Recipes:
Pasta|Italian|Bacon|Carrot|Celery|Hot Pepper|Meat|Oregano|Parsley|Pork|Red Wine|Vegetable

Reviews (32) Questions (0)

32 Reviews

Kirk November 26, 2017
This is the only sauce recipe you need The anchovies add a depth to the taste that is fantastic I don't have an immersion blender but whizzed it in the processor and used regular tomatoes - but still it is excellent.
 
Nanners July 2, 2017
Living in Montreal, Canada, I have ordered many a pasta meal and have made several homemade meals and I must say. This recipe is absolutely fantastic. When the balsamic vingegar is added,, it adds so much flavour ... Thanks so much for this recipe!
 
Valerie October 8, 2016
This was absolutely amazing!!!!!! Best meat sauce I have ever made
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. October 10, 2016
I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
 
[email protected] March 1, 2016
I was cooking until midnight but it was SO worth it! I worked until 5, grocery shopped 'til 6, prepped and got it together for 2 more hours and cooked it until midnight than reheated the next day and added the finishing touches. It's very necessary to follow precisely to build the flavors. I got the pork's crispy bits on the bottom of the pan, actually browned the veggies a bit (by accident) which added more flavor. I seasoned every level of food with salt and pepper. I used my counter top blender because I don't have an immersion blender. Jenya is right .... I kept taking spoonfuls because it was fabulous and better by the minute! LOVED the Bucatini (thank goodness I found it) because it has substance. Thank you!!
 
Dina D. March 1, 2016
I made this without an immersion blender ( do not own one ) ... it still turned out fabulous !!! Never had to add vinegar .... Will make it again .. we just loved the flavors ! thank you so much for sharing : )<br /><br />
 
Suzy February 11, 2016
We were so intrigued by this recipe. We read it over several times and agreed this would be a great cold winter meal. Read the recipe several times, went to,the market and bought all the necessary ingredients. We were so looking forward to this dish. We followed the directions exactly. Unfortunately at about the 3 hour mark, it lacked any depth of flavor. So I added the recommended balsemic vinegar. Still blah. So maybe<br /> more salt . No that didn't do anything. More tomato paste-- a little better. Two more hours slow cookiNg and time to eat. After five plus hours we served this with bucatini and were reallydisappointed. It was a bunch of under flavored pork with a little tomato sauce. My husband said, " with more seasoning etc, it may have made a good chili. We do not recommend this recipe.
 
Jan S. January 23, 2016
The recipe doesn't mention taking the skin off the Italian sausage, but I assume that's the idea. It's been cooking three hours now and smells and tastes fabulous. I'm serving it to guests two nights in a row and trying to figure out how to deal with the pasta water and putting the pasta in the sauce. Also couldn't find bucatini at my store and wondering what's the best substitute. From the photo I'm guessing something thicker than linguine.
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 24, 2016
Hello Jan, yes the sausages need to be removed from the casings. You just want the ground meat and the Italian seasonings for flavor. Reserving pasta water and adding it to a simmering sauce is a very common Italian cooking technique and used by most chefs when making pasta. It helps thicken the sauce because of the starch left over from the pasta in the water. It's also good to have extra on hand in case the sauce dries out. Fettuccine would be a great substitute for the bucatini, or tubular pasta like penne or rigatoni would work great too. I hope it turned out delicious and that you and your guests enjoyed it!
 
Andy January 22, 2016
No worries, figured it out. Bloody hell, that was good!
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 24, 2016
Hi Andy, so glad to hear you enjoyed it :)<br />
 
Andy January 22, 2016
I am cooking this now and can't wait. The smell is amazing. Am a bit unsure how much balsamic to add? It says see note but i can't see a note and there is no quantity. 1 hour of 5 top go...can you let me know?
 
dasiba January 18, 2016
I made this on Saturday, and it was a moderate success. I followed the instructions to the last detail, which was hard for me to do since I like to improvise. What kept this from being great was the meat, and I wonder what I did wrong. The sauce was lovely but the meat was flavorless. Should I have added some salt and spices at the browning stage? Or did I brown too much, or not break up the pieces enough? I only let it simmer for 3.5 hours, so maybe it would have melded better with more time? (I got my meat from our local, happy-animal, butcher, so I don't think that was the cause.) It's a fundamentaly great recipe, just curious where I went wrong.
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 24, 2016
Hello dasiba, I'm sorry to hear that you struggled with the recipe. Flavorless meat is no good! Giving the meat a sprinkle of salt and fresh pepper before or while it's cooking would definitely solve your problem. Not all Italian sausages are created equal and some may have less seasoning than others. Also, did you make sure to not overcrowd the pan and get a good browning / sear on the meat? You want the bottom of the pan to actually look slightly burned (very slightly), those "brown bits" are full of meaty flavor. Hope you give it another try :)
 
Jennifer H. January 17, 2016
I made it today and we just finished eating. Huge success!! I've never been a fan of Italian sausage, but this sauce has changed my mind. My whole family loved it, and everyone used their bread to scoop the rest of the sauce from their bowls. ? Thanks for the detailed instructions that even this novice could follow!
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 18, 2016
Hi Jennifer, I'm so happy that the recipe worked for you and that your whole family loved it! Sometimes I worry that my instructions are too detailed and long, so it's nice to hear that they are easy to follow. Isn't the sauce just amazing?!? I think I might start making extra to freeze for a quick weeknight meal.
 
anotherfoodieblogger January 17, 2016
Congrats on the win! This looks so very tasty, and I'd love to be able to make this if I can ever carve out that much time. I am sure it is so worth it!
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 18, 2016
Thank you! Yes, it does take a bit of time to make...but it is SO worth it! The sauce will make your house smell like Italy while it simmers :) Let me know if you get a chance to make it and how it turns out.
 
anotherfoodieblogger January 18, 2016
I sure will!!
 
Donna January 15, 2016
Congratulations on your contest win! This lovely dish has been added to my "to try" collection.
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 15, 2016
Thanks Donna, I hope you try it and that it turns out fantastic!<br />
 
sexyLAMBCHOPx January 15, 2016
acaongrats - looks delicious!
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 15, 2016
Thanks sexy lambchop! I just smiled as I typed your name...lamb chops really are sexy! Especially in a pistachio crust or with some delicious mint pesto ;)
 
LE B. January 11, 2016
jenya, i have admired a number of your 52 recipes, and their beautiful photography, and i was excited to make this dish(Congrats on your semi-finals!)I was especially impressed by your inclusion of bacon, anchovies, wine and pinches of sugar. But with the actual cooking of the sauce tonight, there was one major problem. From the get-go, there was not enough liquid. 2 1/4 lb(36 ou.) of meat and 36 ou liquid (tomatoes and water). I used an 8 qt. pot and experienced " the meat poking through the sauce" at the very beginning, when the sauce had just gone on a flame. It has been cooking about 2 hours now and so far I have already added 1/2- 1 qt. water to get enough liquid for the sauce to low bubble and not burn up over the long cooking time. I used an 8 qt. pot. But even if you had used a smaller circumference pot, I'm having a hard time imagining your meat not 'poking through the sauce" from the very beginning. Was there a typo? did you mean for there to be more sauce?
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 11, 2016
Hi LE BEC FIN, I'm sorry to hear you had issues with the recipe. I always find the amount of liquid depends on many factors, especially weather / altitude. In the ingredient list I say 2 or more cups of water, and yes...I have added up to 4 myself. The can of tomatoes provides some liquid as well as the vegetables once they are pureed. Did you cook the sauce on the lowest simmer and did you cover the pan leaving a tiny space? that helps prevent the sauce from drying out. I find that if I start with the right liquid amount at the beginning, I usually add a couple of more cups of water at the most. Hope the flavor was good! :)
 
LE B. January 12, 2016
We had it tonight. I used 8 ou. wine, extra chili flakes and probably 6-8 cups of water by the time it was served. I carefully followed your cooking directions. It was delicious and My Love agreed and said he especially enjoyed the spiciness of it. I'm chuckling a bit because this was the only time I have ever used LESS parmesan than called for! but I wanted to focus on the flavors of the sauce. Thx much and congrats on the semi finals!
 
Karrie /. January 10, 2016
This recipe sounds so delicious Jenya. Love your story about spending your younger years in Italy and that must have been a wonderful experience. I spent a week in Rome several years ago and had the best food of my life there. I dream of going back and spending a few months there to learn how to cook authentic Italian. Saved your recipe because definitely making it very soon. Also, love that you used bucatini because that's my favorite pasta! :)
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 10, 2016
Hi Karrie, thank you for the nice comment! I also dream of getting the chance to live in Italy again and to study Italian cooking. Until that dream comes true, I bury myself in Italian cookbooks and cooking / travel shows. And isn't bucatini just the best? I love it in Carbonara too. Your recipe for the hot chicken and bacon cheddar jalapeño waffle is mouthwatering! When I showed my husband the finalist contest page, he said "when are you making that?!?" What a clever idea to add bacon straight to the waffle. And with cheddar too...YUM! I will most definitely try making it soon. Hmm...perfect for Super Bowl :)
 
dasiba January 8, 2016
This recipes sounds perfect! And I want to compliment the level of detail in the instructions. I read this once, and I can visualize every step. It makes perfect sense; there are no lose ends. Thank you!! I'll let you know how it turns out.
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 9, 2016
Hi Dasiba, thank you so much! Glad to hear that the instructions are easy to follow. Hope you enjoy the dish!
 
AntoniaJames January 8, 2016
Whoa this looks amazing. Congratulations! I plan to make this next weekend. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Jenya |. January 8, 2016
Thanks Antonia! Let me know how it turns out:)