Oooooooh boy. Guys, I am tired. A full day (and I mean FULL) in the kitchen will do that to you, but I am hear to say that the effort was totally worth it. Any day that starts with purchasing a bone-in pork shoulder from my friendly neighborhood butcher and ends with a flavor-packed bowl of pork ragu topped with pillowy light gnocchi laced with parmesan is a good one. HOO-RAH. Two times.
You too can have this kind of fun if you’re willing to dedicate a full day (or two) to this laborious process. Truth be told I’ve been wanting to try a Sunday sauce for a long time now, but I never had the time or the willpower to take on the task. Enter a rainy Sunday morning when I happened to be awake on the north side of 9am (I like to sleep, no judgement). And I was just inspired. Pair that with finding the perfect recipe to try and I was off to the market, canvas totes in tow.
The quality of ingredients is key here — splurge a bit for some really great quality pork and DO NOT go for boneless pork shoulder because ‘it’s easier’ or ‘bones, ewww, gross’. You’ll lose out on major flavor and that is a no no where ragu is concerned. Grab the veggies (local, organic pretty please) and a good bottle of dry red (I used Cab) and get to cookin’.
I can guarantee you’ll feel mighty accomplished when you sit down to enjoy your labor of love in 8-ish (OK, maybe 10-ish) hours time.
You ready? OK, let’s do this.
Pork Ragu with Parmesan Semolina Gnocchi
(inspired by this recipe from The Kitchn)
For the pork ragu:
4 lb. bone-in pork shoulder, trimmed of fat
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finally chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice (I like San Marzano)
1 cup chicken stock
pinch of red pepper flakes
pinch of sugar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
For the gnocchi:
4 cups whole milk
1 cup semolina flour
1 cup grated parmesan, divided
3 eggs yolks, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon sea salt
Kitchen equipment: large oven-safe pot or dutch oven, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, baking sheet, wooden spoon or spatula, cutting board, large kitchen knife
OK, I was not lying/exaggerating, this recipe really does take ALL DAY. Like so much of your day that it’s actually better to do this over two days. However you choose to get it done, just know that you will be spending some major time in the kitchen, so cancel the rest of your weekend plans. Okie dokie, we’re good to go now, yes?
Make the gnocchi dough. Were you looking for a little arm workout for your Sunday? Well, you’ve got one. Making this gnocchi dough requires constant stirring for what feels like 4 lifetimes, so you’ll come away with a gorgeous dish and some sweet guns. Bonus points all around.
Grab your sauce pan and heat the milk over medium heat until a ring of bubbles forms around the edges. Using your wooden spoon, gradually stir the semolina flour into the milk and set a timer for 15 minutes. Now, stir. And stir and stir and stir and stir. The mixture will thicken quickly and you will keep stirring. Don’t forget to clear the corners and the sides of the pan every once in awhile to prevent the semolina from burning. Keep stirring constantly until your alarm goes off, then stir for 2-3 minutes longer. The dough should be dense and very thick. Remove from the heat and pour the dough into a large bowl. Mix in 2/3 cup of the parmesan and stir to incorporate. Add the eggs and the salt and stir vigorously to incorporate (and to prevent the eggs from scrambling). Let cool slightly, then place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dough. Stick the dough in the refrigerator and cool completely. Alternatively, you can make this the night before and refrigerate overnight to save time on sauce day.
Prep the pork. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Place your pork shoulder on a large cutting board and trim off the excess skin and fat. Pat the pork dry and season liberally on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat your large pot over high heat and add a few tablespoons of canola oil. When the oil is hot, add the pork shoulder to the pot and sear on all sides until golden brown. Remove the pork from the pot and set aside.
Build the sauce. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the chopped bacon to the pot you used to cook the pork. Render the bacon for about five minutes, then add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook another minute or so.
Toss in the tablespoon of tomato paste and stir the mixture constantly to incorporate, about two minutes. Pour in the wine and cider vinegar and turn the heat up a bit. The goal is to reduce the sauce slightly and pick up all those gorgeous brown bits on the bottom. Add the tomatoes and all of their juice and season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Cook the pork. Add the pork shoulder back to the pot, and using your tongs, situate the pork so it’s nearly submerged in the sauce. Add a liberal pinch of red pepper flakes and a big ol’ pinch of sugar plus a bit more salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.
Bring the pork and sauce to a boil, then cover and transfer to the oven. Cook about three hours, turning the pork once, until the meat is falling off the bone and easily shreddable.
Finish the sauce. Remove the pot from the oven and transfer the pork shoulder from the pot to your cutting board. Shred the pork while still hot using two forks. Add the shredded pork back to the sauce and stir to incorporate. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cool. You don’t want to skip this step, as this allows the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken.
Cook the gnocchi. When the sauce is completely cooled and you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Take the gnocchi dough from the refrigerator and grab your baking sheet. Grease the sheet with a little canola oil and a paper towel, then using a spoon, form tablespoon-sized dumplings and place them on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
Sprinkle a little parmesan on each dumpling, then place in the oven on the top rack and cook for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is nicely browned.
Bring it all together. Take the cooled pork ragu out of the refrigerator and reheat over medium-low heat until warm. Ladle the sauce into bowls and top with the gnocchi, a little sprinkle of parmesan and some freshly chopped basil.
Enjoy your work with a nice glass of bold red and a group of loved ones. Or with a bold red and your couch and some trashy reality TV. Also for lunch tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. You get the idea.
This is blow-your-mind good food and well worth the effort. Hearty and rich and filling and everything a good Sunday sauce should be.