There is something so wonderful about an all-day recipe. It’s automatically special. It instantly fills your day up with purpose. It tethers you to your kitchen and, if you’re like me, that’s just fine by you. It promises to fill your home with delicious fragrances and gentle warmth. Best of all, it screams weekend—because, in my world at least, dinner and its preparation simply is not an hours-long affair on a weeknight. In the fall, such a recipe screams Sunday afternoon, in particular, when golden sunshine filters into the kitchen and the whistles and cracks and cheers of a football game on TV waft out of the living room. And, because it is fall, with the first hints of chill in the air, your all-day-Sunday recipe might as well be good and hearty.
Last Sunday, in accordance with all of the above, I committed myself to a baked pasta with pork sugo. This project had me break down a hunk of pork shoulder into chunks, which were first browned and then braised in a concoction of wine, soffritto, tomatoes and fresh herbs that smelled just as lovely as you might expect. Like any good braise, this one was low and slow. Hours later, the pork had become fall-apart tender.
The next step of the recipe gave me pause. It instructed me to transfer the braised vegetables and meat to a food processor for several short pulses. I’m not sure why, but this turned my stomach just a little bit, but I forged on and, a few quick whirls later, I saw the wisdom of the method. The pork was perfectly shredded, while the vegetables remained, on the whole, intact. I could’ve happily stopped at this point and eaten the results straight from the food processor bowl. Instead, I reminded myself that this was a Sunday and this was an all-day recipe, one that didn’t allow short-cuts, and, so, with new resolve, I forged ahead.
Next, the shredded pork mixture went back into the braising liquid, where it became a wonderful-looking sauce. Into that went a pound or so of barely cooked pasta. The recipe called for orecchiette, but my store was out of that shape in the brand that I favor, so I opted for torchietti—translation: little torches. And that’s exactly what the pasta looks like, you’ll think, because you have time to stop and ponder such things; it’s Sunday, after all: no need to rush.
Once the pasta and sauce are tossed, you’ll again want to stop short, truncating the recipe. You’ll think how great it would be to plunk the Dutch oven right down on the table between you and Kevin, or, er, your dining mate, each armed with only a glass of wine and a fork. What a feast—so primitive! so rustic!—it would be. But again, you’ll focus: it’s Sunday and you’re not done yet.
There’s still the baking to be done, and that happens only after generously showering the dish with shredded parmigiano reggiano. And the parmesan is all there is to this dish in the way of cheese, which is a departure from our typical baked pasta recipes. As it turns out, the parmesan is just enough—it doesn’t detract from the rich, earthy sauce that has snaked its way through the torchietti, but it still provides a nutty, crunchy topping. While all of this had been fun, the best part of an all-day-Sunday recipe is, of course, the pay off: Sunday dinner.
Here’s hoping you’ve got a special recipe stashed away to trot out this Sunday. Happy (almost) weekend, friends!
Baked Pasta with Pork Sugo
Food & Wine
Serves 8 (generously)
3 1/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
4 thyme sprigs
5 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 1/2 pounds orecchiette (or similarly-shaped pasta)
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (7 ounces)
Season the pork with salt and pepper. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the pork in a single layer and cook over moderately high heat until the pieces are golden brown all over, about 12 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic and cook until softened and browned in spots, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a simmer. Add the red wine and thyme sprigs and cook over high heat until the wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the pork is very tender, about 2 hours.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork and vegetables to a food processor; discard the thyme sprigs. Pulse just until the pork is shredded. Scrape the shredded pork and vegetables back into the casserole. Stir in the chopped parsley, oregano and crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 375°. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the orecchiette/pasta until it is still firm to the bite, about 5 minutes; drain well. Add the orecchiette to the casserole and toss with the pork sauce. Scrape the pasta into a very large baking dish and sprinkle all over with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake the casserole in the upper third of the oven for about 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and bubbling. Let the baked pasta stand for 10 minutes before serving.