Napa Valley Pork Ragu with Roasted Red Peppers and Fennel

My grandma and I are the best of friends. I miss the days when I would take the short drive to visit her in Napa and we would do a few Willowbrook Laps and go out to lunch at some fancy new place she had been waiting to try.

What is a Willowbrook Lap you ask? Well… My grandma lives in a 65+ community called Willowbrook, affectionately nicknamed Widowbrook, in middle is a pond that is home to mutant//giant frogs, a swimming pool, hot tub and a clubhouse where they host BYOB cocktail hours on Friday nights. The condos are on a drive arranged in a circle and my grandma walks around the circle for exercise, stopping to wave and gossip with the other residents, its about 3/4 of a mile. My grandma is the HOA President and she is a DIVA.
She tells me stories about when she was my age, all the trouble she used to get into, all the amazing dresses, the jewelry, and the boys. We gossip and giggle like old girlfriends.

One particularly blustery afternoon we lunched at a completely chic Italian spot in downtown Napa. My grandma had a sweet and smoky pork ragu on top of toasts with ginger ale and I had butternut squash risotto with espresso. She told me stories of Panama, shaving with 7Up when the pipes burst, and dancing for hours in white quilted circle skirts and black velvet blouses.
This is also the same scene where one of my favorite quotes of hers comes into the picture – “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did…backwards…and in heels!” Truth grandma, truth.

Here is that sweet and smoky ragu, as I remember it.
3 Red Bell Peppers
About ¼ Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Chopped Onions
3 Garlic Minced Cloves
1 Cup Chopped Fennel
1 Pound Ground Pork Shoulder
1 Cup White Wine
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1 Large Can of Whole Tomatoes
15 – 20 Cherry Tomatoes
1 TS Fennel Seeds
1 TB Fresh Chopped Sage
2TB Brown Sugar
¾ Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper

First roast three red bell peppers (the best way in directly on the flame on your stovetop). Char them well, so that the skin is very black. Move the peppers into a Ziploc and let them steam in there for about 15 minutes, this will make it easier to peel back the skins before chopping.

Saute the chopped onion, fennel and garlic in a little olive oil over medium heat until the onions are clear. Add a little more oil and the ground pork shoulder. Break up the pork into very small pieces while it is browning. I recommend using a pastry whip. Once the pork is good and browned, add the wine to deglaze the pot, making sure to loosen any tastiness stuck to the bottom.

Add in the stock, tomatoes and spices, cover and let simmer on low for about an hour. Add in the Parmesan cheese and mix to incorporate, taking a few minutes to break apart any big chunks of tomato. Taste and salt to your preference.  
I recommend making this the day before you want to serve it, giving the flavors time to develop fully.
This recipe will make a soupy ragu; the extra liquid is so that you can cook your pasta directly in the sauce. Just like you are supposed to.

I piled my high on top of toasts with sauteed kale and extra Parmesan.

Tastes like lunches with grandma.

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