It's cold, your body is telling you to bulk up, and the wind is blowing so hard in North Adams shingles are falling off people's roofs. It's time for one of my favorite easy meals: A slow braise with rich flavors, paired with a nice starch like polenta or pasta.
You can really do this with any tough cut of meat — I recently did one with pretty much just red wine, garlic and beef ribs — but I think my favorite thing to do is cook pork into a tomato sauce oblivion, until the acid has permeated the meat so it flakes away on your fork. You pretty much can't fail if you add enough salt and aromatics — and this is the time to make use of the fresh herbs still in your garden, somehow surviving our weird and unpredictable weather patterns.
This pork ragu is full-bodied and luscious, made with a picnic shoulder cut to allow for plenty of fat to melt off into the sauce and for meat to fall apart when poked with a fork. It retains some brightness from fennel that's cooked low and slow along with carrots, onion and garlic. You could also do this with lamb, which I think would create an even deeper flavor, perfect for dark afternoons and wondering whether it's raining or snowing. Put it together on a weekend afternoon, then go finish your fall garden cleanup, or watch football, or make an apple pie while you wait.
Braised pork ragu with fennel
- 1 4-pound picnic pork shoulder, cut into a few pieces, or any other accessible pork meat that is suitable for braising (pork butt, etc)
- 1 fennel bulb, sliced
- 1 sweet onion, sliced
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 cup red wine
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 to 4 sprigs thyme, diced
- 3 to 4 sprigs oregano, diced
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan on medium.
- Sprinkle salt and pepper over pork, then sear for 3 minutes each side.
- Set aside and add fennel, onion and carrots to pan, along with another shake of salt and pepper.
- Cook until they become soft, around 5 to 7 minutes, then add garlic.
- Deglaze pan with wine, then add pork back in with crushed tomatoes and herbs.
- Simmer on medium-low 3 to 3 1/2 hours, then serve with pasta, polenta or just crusty Italian bread.
- If you set aside some of the fennel fronds, use them to garnish your dishes before serving.