As I’ve probably mentioned before, I typically let what’s available in my supermarket influence what will be on my table for dinner. Such was the case this weekend when a 50%-off sale on pork shoulder led to the purchase of a five-pound roast and a subsequent search for a recipe with which to prepare it.
Fortunately, the recent arrival of a new cookbook, Lidia Bastianich’s Celebrate Like an Italian, a gift from my better half, shortened the search with its recipe “Pork Shoulder with Genovese Sauce.” I was a little surprised, however, by Lidia’s use of pork for a sauce that, to the best of my knowledge, is generally prepared with beef. But somehow the thought of succulent shredded pork smothered in a mass of sweet, silky onions, saucing a bowl of pasta seemed irresistible.
Although the adjective “Genovese” might lead one to associate the sauce with Genoa as well as with pesto, it actually originated in Naples in the 17th century, where Genoese restaurateurs were serving a dish similar to the French boeuf a la mode, a kind of pot roast. It was in the 19th century, that the use of an abundance of onions found its way into the dish. The dish continues to be popular today and is often served as part of a Neapolitan Sunday dinner.
I must admit that while preparing this dish, specifically during the braising of the meat, I was concerned that the onions were going to scorch given the fact that the recipe did not call for any braising liquid. Even Lidia warns the cook to check occasionally. Indeed, after the first 45 minutes of cooking, I got out a can of chicken broth—just in case. However, the long-and-low cooking method worked its wonders and transformed the mass of onions mixed with a pestata (paste) of carrots and garlic into a meltingly sweet and savory sauce.
Because the size of my roast, a little more than 5 pounds, as opposed to the recipe’s called for 3 ½ pounds, I needed to extend the braising time from 3 hours to 4 ½ hours for the meat to be easily shredded. In fact, if it hadn’t been so late, I might have cooked the meat even longer. The only other modifications I made were: supplementing the salt with freshly ground black pepper for seasoning the meat, adding a generous pinch of crushed red-pepper flakes to offset the sweetness of the onions, and substituting Parmigiano for Grana Padano. One might also notice in some of the pictures, that I added a few more fresh bay leaves than called for. However, I removed one or two midway through the cooking as their aroma had become a little too intense.
Finally as I was only cooking for two, rather than adding two pounds of pasta to the pot of sauce, I heated a few ladles of the sauce in a sauté pan, in which I finished the cooking of a half pound of slightly less than al dente pasta. Luckily, the sauce, claims Lidia, freezes “very well.”
Although it takes a long time to cook, this dish is relatively simple to prepare and is made even more so by using a food processor to slice the four pounds of onions.
The recipe below serves 8 to 12.
Pork Shoulder with Genovese Sauce (adapted from Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian by Lidia Bastianich)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
3 ½-pound bone-in pork shoulder, exterior fat trimmed to ¼ inch (I used a 5 pound roast, but needed to extend the cooking time.)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water (Note that the tablespoon is divided within the recipe.)
Freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds onions, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
6 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
2 tablespoons concentrated tomato paste
4 fresh bay leaves
Crushed red-pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
2 pounds cavatappi or other tube pasta, like rigatoni, penne
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the pork all over with 1 teaspoon of the salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the oil is hot, add the pork, fat side down, and gently brown all over, about 10 minutes. Remove to a plate. Take your time with this step to reach a good brown color.
2. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the onions. Cook and stir until they begin to wilt, about eight minutes. The picture below illustrate how much the onions wilted in the 8 or so minutes.
3. In a food processor, combine the carrots and the garlic, and process to make a pestata, or paste, of the vegetables.
4. Scrape the pestata into the onions, and cook until it begins to dry out, about 6 minutes. Although Lidia says “dry out,” it’s more like soften.
5. Clear a space in the pan, and add the tomato paste. Cook and stir the tomato paste in that spot until it is toasted and darkens a shade or two about 1 minute, then stir in the onions.
6. Drop in the bay leaves, and season with the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and optionally crushed red pepper flakes to taste.
7. Put the pork on top, reduce the heat to low, and cover. Let cook, checking occasionally to make sure the onions aren’t scorching, until the onions have turned into a silky sauce and the pork is very tender, about 3 hours. (Depending on the size of your roast, you may need to adjust the cooking time.)
8. The secret to the success of this sauce is low temperature long cooking time. The cooking juices will be released by the onions and meat, so stirring periodically is a must.
9. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Remove the bay leaves from the Dutch oven, and shred the meat with two forks, discarding fat and bone. Bring the pork and its sauce back to a simmer.
10. Add the pasta to the pot, and cook until al dente. Remove the pasta with a spider directly to the sauce, and add a drizzle of olive oil. Toss to cook the pasta, adding a little pasta water if it seems dry. Off heat, sprinkle with grated cheese, toss, and serve. (If cooking for only a few people, you may want to take an adequate amount of the sauce from the pot and heat it in sauté pan, in which you can then toss the pasta.)
Wine Pairing: Aglianico, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo