When the right kiss, and the right sauce changes your life
I confess to being a wee bit late to the pasta game. I was that kid that didn’t like macaroni and cheese and desperately hated Spaghetti and Meatballs. The latter I suspect inspired by squishy, sweet, ketchup and oregano flecked versions from elementary school cafeteria lunches and my mother’s, “doctored up” Prego offerings full of loose ground beef, and jars of texturally questionable mushrooms. Mix that with the “oh-please-don’t-make-me-eat-that” assortment of casseroles dripping with warmed mayonnaise and cream-o-something soup and you’d have better luck getting me to expose my roller skating scabbed knees in a dress than getting me to eat a plate of pasta. Or what I thought of pasta for the first half of my life.
“I don’t like red sauce” a now laughable comment that I would adamantly repeat, over and over again when someone suggested Italian food for dinner. Not a tomato hater, was semi famous in my little family as that weird little girl that ordered a green salad with blue cheese, with a side of tomato juice with lemon, for breakfast and thought the single greatest sandwich of all time, aside from the mayonnaise and Fritos one of course, was one of white bread, a thick swath of mayonnaise and slabs of cherry red tomato with a sprinkle of course salt fresh ground pepper. Loved all things tomato, outside of ketchup and, “spaghetti sauce”. That was, until.
Fast forward a hundred years when a awkwardly placed, but earth shatteringly delivered kiss introduced me to a man, well, he was on the verge of turning 21 and still living at home but, a man that would forever change my life in ways I am still discovering 26 years later. “My parents want to meet you” a sentence that made my heart race for two reasons, the obvious of course but, I knew his mother was Italian. What if she is making red sauce?! Sheer panic.
Suffices to say, I have been rightly schooled on “red sauce” and all things pasta. My, now mother in-law’s red sauce tastes of bright, tangy tomatoes and is heady with sausage and braised pork. One bite and much like that kiss, my life changed forever.
I’ve learned that it ain’t all squishy and ketchupy tasting and not all pasta comes with, “red sauce” which is now affectionally referred to as, “gravy” at my house. Needless to say, this opened another world of exploration and palate adventure for my face, my family and my wine pairing prowess. Pasta has become a vessel to absorb various layers of flavors. A body to handle the varying loads of complexity if you will.
This broken pork pasta dish was inspired by a new find for me, Smitten Kitchen. I did some of what she told me but true to form, (or as my husband likes to say, “True to Kemner form”) I changed things a little to make it easier and more loose to individual interpretation.
Slow Cooked Pork & Broken Pasta
This dish can be slow roasted, (and I think there is slightly more intense flavor if you do) but I delightfully found that it works well in a slow cooker which doesn’t heat the house up too much. I even did mine overnight on a very warm weekend which made it even less stuffy and sweaty work for me)
2 Small Bulbs of Fennel rough chopped
1 Large Onion rough chopped
4 Cloves of Garlic (at least) peeled and smashed
1 Stalk Celery rough chopped
3-4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
4-5 Tablespoons Butter (I use unsalted, but it doesn’t matter)
1-2 Lemons juiced and zested
4 Cups Chicken Stock
Parmesan Cheese grated and at least 3 tablespoons but I use way more because, well because it’s cheese, man.
1 ½ to 2 Cups Arugula I like it chopped but torn is fine too
2 Boxes Dried Lasagna Pasta broken into 2-3 inch shards
Salt and Ground Pepper
Olive Oil only if you are roasting
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Trim any excess fat from roast (NOT all of it, you will want some for flavor) and gently salt and pepper leaving the pork out for at least 30 minutes.
In a Dutch oven, or heavy pot with a lid, heat over medium high heat and add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. When oil begins to shimmer add fennel, onion, celery, and garlic. Cook until veggies are tender but not brown. Add stock, thyme, salt, and pepper and bring to a simmer. Add pork, cover with lid and roast for around 90 minutes or until very tender.
Slow Cooker- Add pork, veggies, stock, thyme, salt, and pepper (plenty of the pepper) and cook on low for 8-10 hours- Continue as follows
Let pork and braising liquid cool until you can either pull apart into shreds with forks or, if you’re badass, with your fingers. You are looking for soft ribbons of pork, not completely shredded into a pulp. Keep some chew.
Strain veggies from braising liquid (I like to keep a little and mash it up into a paste and add it to the pork for more fennel flavor) toss veggies and cover the ribbons of pork in just enough liquid to keep it from drying out. Pour remaining broth into a pot and simmer until reduced by half.
Add pork and any liquid remaining into reduced broth until warmed through. Add butter and stir to emulsify.
Put on a large pot of salted water to boil.
Toss a bunch of Parmesan some lemon juice, lemon zest, arugula, a little salt and lots of black pepper in a bowl together-
Cook pasta just short of al dente, drain and add to the pork. Add (more) Parmesan, lemon juice and black pepper and toss to coat. Serve in wide bowls topped with a scoop of the prepared arugula mixture. Devour and wonder how soon is “too soon” for you to make this again.
Because of the subtle, and very bright, flavors here there are plenty of options from white to rose to light red but I would stay away from anything with too much oak or tannin because they will clobber the subtle porky flavors and delicate lemony pop.