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