The Italian gravy you never knew was missing from your life.Jump to recipe
Do you ever get a craving for something you once ate in the past that you can’t quite put your tongue on? I have that problem with Italian – I’m always chasing this one sauce I lost years ago. I ordered it from one of the very first proper Italian restaurants I ever went to and was blown away. At the time I didn’t think to note down the name of the dish or restaurant, because in my youthful hubris I assumed I’d always remember.
I did end up always remembering the dish, but not the actual name or where it came from. I crave it often but I’ve accepted that it’s likely I’ll never find it again and even if I do, it could never be as good as I’ve built it up in my memories.
But! I haven’t come to terms with it, because the prospect of finding it again seems tantalizingly likely. It was just a standard clear or brown probably beef (but definitely not ground beef) Italian meat sauce. How hard can it be to track down and recreate all the usual pastas that would be served in a restaurant in the mid 2000s? So, whenever I’m making pasta at home, I always go for a new recipe, hopeful that I might accidentally stumble upon the sauce of my dreams.
The other day I volunteered to cook dinner for Steph — something I’m always wishing I could do more of — and of course researched my sauce options on the internet for a new and likely candidate. I found an amazing sounding pork sugo recipe from Delfina in SF – a restaurant that neither of us had never been to. Nevertheless, I held hope that it could finally be the sauce. And the recipe sounded great.
Steph and I have totally different tastes in recipes. She prefers the simple, pared down classics that represent long years of perfection and ratios. For me, the crazier sounding a recipe is, the more I want to make it. This one needed two different cuts of pork, an overnight rest, and a blender. I was in.
It came together easily, with almost no prep work and the majority of its time in the oven and smelled better and better with each hour. It drove me nuts with anticipation – could this be it? It drove Steph nuts too, because there was no food in sight that day. I placated her with some pho from our favorite Vietnamese joint, partially to escape the wonderful smells coming from our oven.
The next day Steph made some perfect (because everything she does is perfect in my eyes) handmade garganelli. We sauced it and sat down to take our hugely anticipated first bites. It. was. amazing. It had a depth of flavor that comes from an easy oven braise and an amazing texture from the blender. I would rate it, purely personally, as one of my top 10 sauces I’ve ever made.
Was it the one though? Not even close, but I think my fairy saucemother was on duty; this one might be better.
Delfina’s Secret Pork Sugo Recipe
Yield: 8 portions
Adapted from 7×7’s version
- 2lbs pork shoulder
- 1/2 rack pork spareribs
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 3 cups onion, rough diced
- 1 cup carrots, rough diced
- 1 cup celery, rough diced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 sprigs rosemary, stripped
- 5 sage leaves
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- Pinch chili flakes, to taste
- Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat your oven to 325F
Cut down the pork shoulder into smaller chunks and season both pork shoulder and ribs with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil on medium high in a moderately deep, heavy bottomed pan that you own a cover for and brown meat well on all sides.
Remove the meat from the pan and reduce heat to medium low. Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, and sage and cook until onions are transparent. Add tomato paste and cook for two more minutes, then add wine. Scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and continue cooking until the wine has reduced by half.
Return the meat to the pan and add stock. Make sure the meat is submerged in the stock. Transfer the pan to the oven and put the cover on.
After 2 hours, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the meat to a sealed container or bowl with plastic wrap. Allow both meat and sauce to cool, and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, discard as much of the congealed fat as desired. Warm the sauce through and puree in a blender. Return the sauce to the stove and reduce until it has good body, about half.
Meanwhile, shred the meat with a fork or by hand. Once the sauce has reduced, adjust seasoning, then add the meat back to the sauce and bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
To serve: Warm an appropriate amount of sauce in a wide saute pan. Cook your favorite pasta until 2 minutes before al dente. Scoop out about a cup of the pasta water and reserve, then drain the pasta and transfer to the saute pan. Add a small knob of butter plus parsley to the pan, then cook on medium high for 2 minutes. Add some of the reserved pasta water if needed. Serve with parmesan and chili flakes if desired.
Note: If I did this again, I’d get another cut of pork instead of shoulder, probably pork belly, and skip the browning step entirely.