Ragu can be made from any meat or combination of meats, but the earthiness of a pure pork ragu is undeniably attractive—and great comfort food.
Most recipes for traditional pork ragu use pork shoulder and a hard-to-find, bony cut like neck, shank, or feet to give the sauce great body. We were determined to use just one: Quick-cooking pork sausage or lean pork loin were parched after braising.
We needed a collagen-rich cut of pork, which would have deep flavor and a melting texture after long cooking—and the bones included. Baby back ribs fit the bill perfectly. We tried using all baby back ribs and found the resulting ragu rich and meaty with perfect silkiness.
For a classic Italian flavor profile, fennel took the place of celery in the ragu's base and ground fennel rubbed into the ribs echoed the anise flavor. Simmering the garlic head whole right in the sauce yielded sweeter softened cloves that we squeezed back into the sauce when tender.
With fresh herbs and red wine, our ragu tasted balanced and far more complex than its simple preparation would suggest. This recipe makes enough sauce to coat 2 pounds of pasta. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Start to finish: 3 hours
2 (2 1/4-to-2 1/2 pound) racks baby back ribs, trimmed and each rack cut into quarters
2 teaspoons ground fennel
Kosher salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
1 large fennel bulb, stalks discarded, bulb halved, cored, and chopped fine
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped fine
1/4 cup minced fresh sage
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dry red wine
1 (28 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and crushed coarse
3 cups chicken broth
1 garlic head, outer papery skins removed and top quarter of head cut off and discarded
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 F. Sprinkle ribs with ground fennel and generously season with salt and pepper, pressing on spices to adhere. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of ribs, meat side down, and cook, without moving them, until meat is well browned, 6 to 8 minutes; transfer to plate. Repeat with remaining ribs; set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add onion, fennel, carrots, 2 tablespoons sage, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to now-empty pot. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping up any browned bits, until vegetables are well browned and beginning to stick to pot bottom, 12 to 15 minutes.
Add 1 cup wine and cook until evaporated, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and broth and bring to simmer. Submerge garlic and ribs, meat side down, in liquid; add any accumulated juices from plate. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook until ribs are fork-tender, about 2 hours.
Remove pot from oven and transfer ribs and garlic to rimmed baking sheet. Using large spoon, skim any fat from surface of sauce. Once cool enough to handle, shred meat from bones; discard bones and gristle. Return meat to pot. Squeeze garlic from its skin into pot. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons sage and remaining 2 tablespoons wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Nutrition information per serving: 559 calories; 273 calories from fat; 30 g fat (10 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 168 mg cholesterol; 628 mg sodium; 11 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 5 g sugar; 56 g protein.
America's Test Kitchen provided this article to The Associated Press.