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September, 2010

Pork Ragu with Pancetta and Fresh Sage

By Heidi Allison

This is a fall comfort food dish at its best— a savory pork ragu seasoned with pancetta and fresh sage served over hot penne, a dish that can be brought to the table in under 45 minutes— no kidding!

The secret to the success of this recipe is using a pressure cooker, which reduces the cooking time from 3 to 4 hours in the oven to 45 minutes on your stovetop. Moreover, this culinary technique keeps this very lean cut of pork melt-in-your mouth tender—not an easy thing to pull off!

But the culinary technique has other advantages: it also keeps the saturated fat (bad for your heart) content low without sacrificing taste; its rich, savory sauce is created by the sweet Hawaiian or yellow onions and carrots, rather than pork fat. In this modern, upscale rendition, the vegetables melt into a magnificent sauce in the pressure cooker-- a sauce that is flavored with just enough white wine, chicken stock and smoky pancetta to create that requisite stick-to-your-ribs comfort food taste this dish demands, but at a fraction of the fat!

There are just a few caveats that make or break this dish: make sure that you sauté the pork in two batches—the pork pieces should not touch-- which ensures you get a crust on the meat, rather than steaming it into a goopy mess. This step not only coats the meat and keeps it tender during the cooking process, but also will thicken the sauce to the correct consistency in the finished dish. Also, use a good-quality pancetta and a non-fruity olive oil— both ingredients make a big difference in the taste of the finished dish.

Pork Ragu with Pancetta, Fresh Sage and Penne
Pork Ragu with Pancetta, Fresh Sage and Penne
Serves: 4-6

4 medium Melissa’s Perfect Sweet Onions, cut in half and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 Tbsp. good-quality olive oil (I prefer a good Greek EVOO)
1 ounce pancetta
4 large sage leaves
1 celery stalk, sliced
¼ -inch thickness
4 carrots, peeled and sliced ½-inch round
1 tsp. kosher flake salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pork tenderloin
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. flake kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ Tbsp. organic tomato paste
10 grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cup Pinot Grigio
1 cup chicken stock
6 cups of cooked penne pasta
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese

Preparation:
Place olive oil and pancetta into a pressure cooker (lid off) and heat on medium high heat until warm, about 5 minutes. Add onions, carrots and celery and reduce heat to medium-low. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until onions are beginning to caramelize—about 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Cut pork tenderloin into 1-inch cubes (against the grain) then into 1/4 inch shreds. Season the pork lightly with kosher salt and pepper. Place 1 cup of all-purpose flour in a bowl, dust pork in flour and set aside. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in the pressure cooker (lid off) and place floured pork in a single layer (not touching) until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Turn with tongs and brown the other side, then remove and repeat with the second batch. Add veggies, tomato paste, grape tomatoes, wine, chicken stock and stir with a whisk to combine. Cover pressure cooker with lid and heat on medium-high until an even stream of steam is being released.

Heat and allow the pressure to release until it is safe to open. Then, open the lid and mash the pork / vegetables mixture lightly with a potato masher, until the carrot pieces are the texture of a chunky purée, and the pork falls into thick shreds. Place cooked penne into serving bowls and top with pork ragu and cheese. Serve immediately.