Gnocchi With Pork Ragu

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This Pig Needs No Lipstick!

 This Pig Needs No Lipstick!

The Ultimate Sunday Sauce

Buon giorno!


When I think of Gnocchi, I automatically envision the Classic Tuscan dish, Gnocchi con Sugo Cinghiale or Gnocchi with Wild Boar Sauce. Since today’s grocery meat department is generally devoid of wild boar, my taste reverts to making MY favorite preparation of Gnocchi which is served with Pork Ragu . This sauce is, in my mind and heart, the standard among tomato sauces and can be used with so many types of pasta. It is easy and not expensive to prepare. This sauce illustrates the saying “Appetito vien mangiando” or Appetite comes with eating, as this is the sauce that brings an appetite to life! I like to use different sauces with my Gnocchi, but I suggest this Pork Ragu is the signature and reminds me most of that mouth watering Boar Sauce that is steeped in Tuscan tradition!

As I was growing up in our little house in Binghamton, New York, this was the type of sauce (with a couple of minor additions from me) that my mother, Loretta, most often made. It was Sunday Sauce. I can hear her say “the most flavorful sauce is made with pork – especially the bones!” The aroma of this pork sauce would permeate the house for hours, and I would wait for the moment when she would call me to “taste” the sauce. This taste test consisted of a piece of crusty Italian bread and a spoonful of the hot sauce on top. It brought a burst of flavor on the tongue and would wet my appetite for the meal to follow. I often sneaked a second taste when her attention was diverted.

Speaking of sneaking, my father, Attilio, would inevitably “slip” something into the sauce that Loretta did not know about. If asked, he called it “Sale da Gaeta”. (Translation: Salt from Gaeta – Gaeta being a city on the water between Rome and Naples from where the famous and wonderful wrinkly olives hail) Whenever a dish was especially delicious, he announced “Ah! It’s Sale da Gaeta!” None of us ever saw this “special salt” and very often, we assumed that his little addition to the recipe was usually red pepper flakes or “hot pepper” as he called it! He always had a container of this at the dinner table where he liked to add just a little more heat! (Hear more about Loretta and Attilio at“About Linda” at Linda’s Italian Table)

Each region of Italy seems to treat this sauce a little differently. Each area uses a different meat or combination of meats. Some use boar, some venison, some pork, beef, veal or all three. My mother, using the pork, left the meat on the bone alla Napoletana instead of shredding it Tuscan style. Everyone, then, received a large piece of meat still on the bone which was served separately after the pasta course and before the salad which is the traditional Italian style of presenting the meal.

When selecting the pork for this dish, it is your choice. Some even prefer to use Italian Sausage. When I choose to use sausage in any sauce, I always like a combination of sweet (mild) and hot. My family would almost always be most likely to use a cut of pork with the bones, and sometimes would combine both sausage and pork in the sauce. For Gnocchi, my personal preference is to use just the pork with bones. After the pork is shredded, it becomes very tender and surprisingly light with the Gnocchi. Any very inexpensive cut of pork from neck bones to ribs – anything really – can be used here. The desired effect is a combination of intense flavor and tender meat. The meat will cook in the sauce so long that it will tenderize and fall from the bone making it easy to serve. Andiamo!

About 3 lb pork on bones, can be ribs, neck bones or other





1/4 lb pancetta diced

4 cloves garlic – chopped finely

4 tbsp olive oil

1 onion chopped – the sweeter the onion the sweeter the sauce!

1 stalk celery chopped

8 baby carrots chopped in very small pieces ( baby carrots are sweeter!)

1 c. red Italian wine (vino rosso) – could be a Chianti or Valpolicella

2 28 oz cans San Marzano Tomatoes- if you can find them because San Marzano tomatoes are by far the tastiest – if you can’t – use other- can use crushed or whole peeled and crush them

1/2 c. chopped Fresh Flat (preferable) Leaf Italian Parsley

1/2 cup chopped Fresh Basil

2 Tbsp chopped Fresh Oregano

1 tsp sugar

1 – 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (to taste)

6-7 twists of the Black Pepper grinder

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Fresh Basil chopped for garnish

Begin by just browning the pancetta pieces.

Add the olive oil and then the garlic and pork with heat at medium being careful not to let the garlic burn.

Just brown each side of the pork as it will cook thoroughly in the sauce. Remove the pork pieces, set aside, and add the onion, celery, and carrots. Stir occasionally and cook these vegetables about 5 min until just tender.

Then add the browned meat back to the pan followed by the wine.Scrape the bottom of the pan a little to release the small bits from the bottom of the pan, turning the meat to let the wine seep into both sides. Cook the wine for about 2-3 min at medium high and let it bubble.

Then add the San Marzano Tomatoes, and all herbs and remaining seasoning including the sugar. ( Loretta and Attilio would be taken aback by this last addition as they used to whisper “so and so puts sugar in their sauce” as if some law had been broken.) In ancient times, sugar was said to be used only by the wealthy as it was considered dear. In our household it was – GASP ! – the Cardinal Sin.

My personal take on this is that the sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and adds a little balance to the sauce.

If you have a rind or a piece of one from your Parmigiano-Reggiano, go ahead and drop it in the sauce as it simmers! It will add another level of flavor.

Simmer this sauce on low heat for about 3 hours – stirring occasionally. I like to cover mine while simmering. You know it’s done when the meat is so tender that is falls easily from the bones.

When sauce is finished, remove the pork pieces to a separate dish. the meat should be falling off the bones and you might have to “fish” for it.

The next step is familiar to those especially in the South who make barbecue. Take 2 forks and gently use them to shred the meat pulling in opposite directions.

Discard the bones and the fat. You might want to stir a couple of tablespoons of the sauce into the meat. I like to keep the meat separate from the sauce until serving time.

To serve, prepare the gnocchi as directed in last week’s post “Making Gnocchi” and place it in a serving dish bathing it in the delicious sauce. I take the shredded pork and mound it in the middle.

Garnish with chopped Fresh Basil and present to your guests with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese.

This makes a large amount of sauce, so what you do not use can be frozen for another great pasta meal – perhaps with Pappardelle!

My favorite accompaniment to this meal is a Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Doc 2007. .


**Also: See the new November RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE – for another great sauce recipe for GNOCCHI!

Food Photos by Tommy Hanks Photography

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