Farro with Pork Ragù

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In New York City, fall has definitely arrived and so has my appetite for heartier as well as comforting dishes like braises and stews. Perhaps this is why a recipe for farro with pork ragu looked so appealing. The fact that I had almost everything on hand except for the pork shoulder and a fresh bay leaf also increased the recipe’s appeal and thus it found its way to our table last night.

The recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italyis yet another example of the simplicity of Italian cooking: a minimum of ingredients prepared with a modicum of technique.

The finished dish was exquisite: succulent pork cooked slowly in a subtly spicy tomato sauce, which is then combined with earthy farro. Paired with a rich, plummy Aglianico, it met all my requirements for comforting fall fare.

Since I was cooking only for two, I prepared only 8 ounces of the farro and combined it with only half of the ragu. I also found that the pork required a longer cooking time than the one and half hours specified in the recipe. I cooked it for a full two hours, after which the meat was perfectly tender. Finally, for maximum flavor, be sure to scrape up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan after adding the wine and again after adding the tomatoes.

Farro with Pork Ragù Potenza Style from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy
Makes about 4 cups, serving 6 with farro

The Ingredients
The Ingredients

For the ragù
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic (about 5 cloves)
1/2 tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups (one 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

For the farro and serving
1 pound farro
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus more for passing (I used pecorino.)

Recommended equipment: A heavy saucepan, such as an enameled cast-iron French oven, 5-quart capacity, with a cover; a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan.

For the ragù: Trim the fat from the exterior of the pork. Cut it into bite-sized morsels, about 3/4-inch cubes, trimming more fat and bits of cartilage as you divide the meat. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels.

Pour the olive oil into the big pan, set it over medium heat and toss in the pork. Spread the pieces in the pan and season with the salt. Cook the pork slowly for 15 minutes or so, turning and moving the pieces occasionally as the meat releases its juices and they cook away.

Browning the pork
Browning the pork

When the pan is dry and the pork starts to sizzle and crackle, clear a hot spot on the bottom and drop in the chopped garlic and peperoncino. Stir and toast them for a minute or so in the hot spot until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling, then stir and toss with the meat cubes. Raise the heat a bit, pour in the white wine, stir and bring to a boil. Let the wine bubble until it is nearly evaporated and the pork is sizzling again.

Reducing the wine
Reducing the wine

Pour in the crushed tomatoes and a cup of water that has been sloshed around to rinse out the tomato can, grate on the fresh nutmeg and stir.

With the tomatoes
With the tomatoes

Cover the pan and heat the tomatoes to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle perking. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the pork is tender all the way through and falls apart under gentle pressure, and the sauce has thickened. If the liquid is still thin toward the end of the cooking time, set the cover ajar and raise the heat a bit to reduce it rapidly.

The finished ragu
The finished ragu

Meanwhile, prepare the farro, first rinsing it well and draining it in a sieve. Put it in the smaller saucepan with 6 cups cold water, the bay leaf, salt and olive oil.

The cooking liquid for the farro
The cooking liquid for the farro

Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then set the cover ajar and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grains are cooked through but still al dente. Turn off the heat, pour off excess liquid and keep the farro warm until the ragù is done.

The cooked farro
The cooked farro

To finish the dish: Have the ragù simmering and stir in the farro thoroughly. Cook together for a minute, so the grain is very hot. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese on top and stir in.

The sauced farro
The sauced farro

Spoon the dressed farro into warm bowls, and serve immediately with more grated cheese at the table.

Wine Pairing: Aglianico

Beef Stew

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It was a blustery Sunday afternoon when we went to our local market to shop for dinner. Seeing boneless chuck roast on sale for $2.00 off per pound made my choice easy. I wasn’t quite sure how I would prepare it, but thought I would buy the ingredients for a braise: onions, carrots, celery, cremini mushrooms, some fresh rosemary. The rest would depend on what I had at home in the pantry.

After returning home, I paged through my cookbooks looking for a beef-stew recipe. I found quite a few, but they almost all had one element in common: browning the beef. Typically I wouldn’t have let this step stop me from making a dish. But we had just finished a thorough cleaning of the kitchen, which albeit a small one, took more than 3 hours. I was not going to start cleaning again after dinner.

I went online and within minutes found a recipe for an easy 2-step beef stew from Martha Stewart, which to my surprise required no browning. I read the recipe several times just to make sure and indeed no browning of the meat was called for.

Because I wasn’t sure how this dish would turn out, we didn’t take photos during the prep or cooking. After tasting it however, I sincerely regretted not having done so. This stew was superb, one of the best I’ve ever made. Granted, I modified the original recipe but the meat was perfectly cooked, thoroughly browned, and the stew, comfortingly delicious.

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Right from the oven

Beef Stew Adapted from Martha Stewart.com

Ingredients

5 pounds beef chuck, trimmed of visible fat and cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes

1/3 cup tomato paste; I recommend the concentrated Italian paste from a tube

4 tablespoons high-quality balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound medium onions (about 2), cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound small white or red new potatoes (about 6), well scrubbed, halved if large

1 pound carrots, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths

6 garlic cloves, smashed

3 bay leaves

1 bottle dry red wine; I used a Sangiovese blend

8 ounces cremini mushrooms

Chopped Italian parsley for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine tomato paste, vinegar, and flour to form a paste.

In a Dutch oven (5-quart) with a tight-fitting lid, rub the beef with the paste; season with salt and pepper.

Add onions, potatoes, carrots, garlic, bay leaves, and 1 bottle of dry red wine. Bring to a boil.

Remove from heat and place a sheet of parchment paper the size and shape of your Dutch oven over the stew.

Cover the pot with the lid, transfer to oven, and cook until meat is fork-tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

After the first 2 hours add the mushrooms to the stew.

Remove bay leaves and, if desired, season with salt and pepper and garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, Zinfandel

Braised Pork Shanks with White Beans

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When it comes to winter comfort food, nothing beats something braised. During cooking, the heat from the stove warms the house, while the aromas tantalize the appetite. At the table, the unctuousness of the meat and the sensuousness of the sauce caress the palate. And if you’re lucky enough, or had the foresight to double the recipe, you have the leftovers, which more often than not are even better than when you first enjoyed the dish.

Last weekend, I found some great looking locally sourced, farm-raised pork shanks, each about a pound, at my butcher in Chelsea Market, Dickson’s.

Tied pork shanks
Tied pork shanks

When I got back home, I looked through my files and found a recipe from Williams-Sonoma for a classic braise with broth, wine, and aromatics complemented by cooked white beans.

The success of this dish depends a lot on thoroughly browning the shanks to develop deep meaty flavors. Finely dicing the onions, carrots, and celery makes for a richly textured sauce. My only variation from the recipe was using whole, rather than chopped, fresh thyme and removing the springs before finishing the sauce. I also used a smaller quantity of beans than called for.

Braised Pork Shanks with White Beans Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

The prepped ingredients
The prepped ingredients

4 fresh pork shanks, well-tied, each 1 1/2 to 2 lb.
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil
2 yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste (I recommend the imported concentrated tomato paste from a tube.)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme (I prefer to use the whole springs and remove then after cooking.)
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups cooked cannellini beans (I recommend starting with 2 cups, and adding more to your taste.)

Directions:
Preheat an oven to 375°F.

Season the pork shanks with salt and pepper. Dredge the shanks in the flour, shaking off the excess. (I’m rather liberal with my salt and pepper.)

In a large braiser (enameled cast iron works best) over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil until just smoking. Add the shanks and brown on all sides, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer to a plate. (Take the time to brown the shanks well.)

The browned shanks
The browned shanks

Add the onions, celery and carrots to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

The aromatics cooking
The aromatics cooking

Add the tomato paste and allow to toast for about a minute. (The original recipe adds the tomato paste along with he garlic and thyme and does not call for toasting.)

Toasting the tomato paste
Toasting the tomato paste

Add the garlic, the 1/4 cup parsley and the thyme and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth and wine and bring the mixture to a boil.

The garlic and thyme
The garlic and thyme

Return the shanks to the pan, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook, turning the shanks once about half way through, until the meat is fork-tender and almost falls off the bone, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer the shanks to a platter and cover loosely with aluminum foil. (The original recipe says to turn the shanks occasionally; I think once is enough.)

The finished shanks
The finished shanks

Skim the fat off the braising liquid, set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Simmer until the liquid is thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked beans, mashing some of them into the sauce.

Beans added to the sauce
Beans added to the sauce

 

Garnish the shanks with parsley and serve immediately with the beans and braising juices. Serves 4.

Wine Pairing: Cotes du Rhone, Syrah

Braised Pork Shoulder Roast

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Yesterday morning, we went to our local butcher to purchase some pork shanks, which I had planned to braise with smoked paprika. Unfortunately, they only had two: one large, one small. That wouldn’t do. As I scanned the display, I espied a pork shoulder roast that prompted me to think of a Facebook post by cookbook author Michele Scicolone on braised pork, which called for, you guessed it, a pork shoulder roast.

Even though we weren’t having dinner guests, I bought the almost four-point roast, and used my phone’s Facebook app to bring up Michele’s post for the recipe and shopping list. She claimed that “nothing is better than a pork shoulder especially when made in the classic Italian way, braised with aromatic vegetables, rosemary and wine.” Well after making it for dinner last night I have to agree—this was indeed the best pork roast I have ever made. Succulent, juicy, and aromatic, perfectly textured, it was absolutely delicious.

I made a few variations, using one large sweet onion rather than the two medium onions called for, increasing the amount of wine and decreasing the amount of water, and adding a tad more fresh rosemary and a pinch of fennel pollen.

The most difficult part of this recipe was waiting for this roast to finish cooking while being tantalized by its seductive aromas that wafted from the oven. We were salivating as it came out of the oven.

As recommended by the author, I served the dish accompanied by white beans and chose a young Barbera d’Alba for our wine.

Here’s a link to Michele’s post: Brasato di Maile for a Festive Dinner Party. Note that a misprint in the recipe erroneously calls for a 14 pound roast as opposed to a 4 pound one.

Onions, Carrot, and Celery are finally chopped

Chopped aromatics
Chopped aromatics

The roast is patted dry and seasoned liberally with salt and pepper:

The seasoned roast
The seasoned roast

The roast is browned on all sides. It’s essential for flavor to take the time to brown the roast well.

Bronwed roast
Browned roast

After browning the roast, I removed it from the pot and sautéed the vegetables, added the garlic, rosemary, fennel pollen, and the wine, and brought them to a simmer. I then returned the browned roast, along with its juices, to the pot.

The roast cooks for about 2.5 hours, or until easily pierced by a fork.

The finished roast
The finished roast

Wine Pairing: Barbera, Chianti Classico, Petite Sirah

 

Beef in Barolo

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As summer draws near to its end, I’m anticipating the richer dishes of fall and winter.: the hearty stews, the rich braises, the luxurious roasts—all make it easy for me to bid farewell to summer and its light cuisine. So maybe it was serendipity that led me into my local Whole Foods on Saturday to find chuck roast discounted 25%. How could I resist?

We had a full schedule on Sunday, so I turned to my trusty slow cooker to cook the roast and to Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Slow Cooker for a recipe. (This author’s slow-cooker books (Italian, French, and Mediterranean) are a great resource for this appliance, offering fool-proof, authentic recipes.) I turned to the book’s “Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb” section and, once again, was pleasantly surprised to discover that its first recipe was for the cut of meat I had purchased: “Beef in Barolo.”

As my savings at Whole Foods could not justify the expense of a Barolo for cooking, I thought I could more than get by with a younger version of this wine made from the same grape, Nebbiolo. And one more time luck led me to a local merchant where I found a bottle of Langhe from a reputable producer at a very good price.

Here’s a link to the recipe online. If you like your carrots and celery in the braise to have some chew, you may opt, as I did, to slice them on the thick side. However, any way you choose to slice your vegetables, this recipe yields an aromatic and deliciously succulent roast that holds its shape even after six hours of cooking.

The roast before slicing
The roast before slicing

Wine Pairing: Langhe, Cabernet Sauvignon