Whenever I am at an Italian Restaurant, and I see a Wild Boar or Pork Ragù on the menu, I always order it. Always. There is something about the intense and hearty meaty and tomato flavors that send me to the moon. I had not had the pleasure of eating it or anything similar for several years, so when I came across a recipe in the NYTimes, I knew that an adaptation would be what I served for my next dinner party. It turned out better than I ever could have dreamed, even as leftovers several days later. Even if you do not like olives and capers, you have to try this because they merely provide the salt and a distant background flavor to this intensely delicious Pork Puttanesca Ragù.
We have lots of “Side Notes” on this post. They are to provide clarification for my reasoning NOT because this recipe is difficult. It is actually quite easy to make.
Slow Roasted Pork Puttanesca Ragù served with a Soft Polenta
I served this dish with polenta versus a pasta. While both were historically dishes for the poor in Italy, polenta today is much more uncommon, at least here in the USA. For you, southern readers, polenta is grits but made with coarse, stone-ground yellow corn versus made with fine stone-ground white corn. Of course, the cheese you might add will be different, etc… but you get the idea. Let’s get this started.
3 1/2 to 4 pounds boneless, skinless pork shoulder – See note below
8-10 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 anchovy fillets, mashed and chopped on cutting board (or anchovy paste)
2 cans tomato paste
⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives, rough chop if you prefer
¼ cup drained capers
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can whole Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, lightly packed
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving
Side Note About Salt
I am salt-sensitive in that it does not take much for me to think a dish is too salty. Other than salting the pork before its seared, I added no additional salt. Why? Because this dish includes olives, capers, and anchovies, which are all salt heavy. I suggest that you taste and, if needed, add salt later in the cooking process or just before you serve.
Side Note About the Red Pepper Flakes
The spicy heat from the red pepper flakes can vary as does your and your family’s tolerance for spicy heat. The 1/2 teaspoon adds a milder background heat that most can tolerate. I initially used only 1 tsp, and that was borderline too spicy for two of my guests the first time I made it. Of course, you can use up two 2 teaspoons if you like diablo, my lips hurt, hot (subjectively speaking).
Side Note About Capers, Kalamata Olives, and Especially Anchovies
DO NOT walk away from this dish because you do not “like” any or all of these three ingredients. AND do not remove them from the recipe. They are integral to the hearty, umami flavor profile that makes this dish so incredible. They are background, blended flavors, and the ragù would be bland without them. Chop the olives and the capers, so you do not see them staring back at you. And if you must, use anchovy paste. You will not be sorry.
Side Note about How to Cook
Who has eight hours to watch a pot cook? No one. That is why you make this in a crockpot set at low heat. I’m sure that you could cook in your oven at 200 – 250º, but that is a lot of electricity, not to mention, I do not leave the house when my oven is on and eight hours is a long time.
Side Note: The Pork Shoulder
Pork Shoulder, aka Boston Butt, is generally sold as a 5 to 10-pound boneless roast. It’s a relatively tough cut, well layered with fat, and is suitable for braising slow and low roasting, or barbecue. So, in this case, look for a 7-8 pound roast and you can either save half for another meal or double the recipe. I saved half.
I bought my pork at Costco where the butchers take a shoulder and trim off the skin, and fat, etc. And slice it into long pieces. They called it “boneless shoulder, country-style ribs.” Clearly, it is not rib meat, but this was exactly what I needed to be done, so this was perfect. Otherwise, I would ask the butcher at my grocer to prepare the shoulder and cut into 4-6 pieces that would be easy to sear. That is because I suck at properly trimming meat.
But if you are so inclined… Trim and discard the fat from the pork shoulder then cut it into 6-8 similar shaped pieces that will sear easily.
Pork Puttanesca Ragù Preparation
Lightly season the pork with salt. Bring a large skillet up to medium-high heat. Now add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan lightly. Without crowding the meat, sear it on all sides. Once seared, move it to the crockpot. Add additional pieces until all are seared and moved to the crockpot.
Once all the pork has been seared, turn the heat down to medium and add a thin layer of olive oil. Then toss in the chopped garlic and anchovies. Cook for only 2-3 minutes, continually stirring so the garlic does not burn.
Add the tomato paste to the pan. Using a flat, metal spatula, smash and smear the paste into the garlic, etc. Keep it moving while it cooks, scraping up the fried bits as they release from the pan. Continue until the color dulls and turns a brownish-red in color, approximately 3 minutes. At this point, turn off the heat and stir in the olives, capers, vinegar, red pepper flakes, oregano. The vinegar should help loosen the most stubborn of bits.
Remove from the skillet and add to the pork. Use a pair of tongs to move the pork to coat with the mixture.
Cover the crockpot and cook on low heat for 8 to 10 hours. (depending on your cooker)
It is Time to give this Pork Puttanesca Ragù “in the making” a Break
Leave completely alone for the next 5 hours. At which point you want to give it a toss. It may start to fall apart. That is fine, but it is not done yet.
Continue cooking for at least 3 more hours but no more than 5 additional hours. It is not done until when you barely touch it with a fork, and it falls to pieces and shreds without effort. The other sign for me was when it started to caramelize around the edges of the pot. A little caramelization is perfect, but too much, and it could taste burnt.
Using a fork or your tongs to shred, making sure there are no chunks. At this point, you can turn off the crockpot and let it rest until about 45 minutes before time to serve.
Reheat the ragù to 200 degrees.
Pour the can of tomatoes, and it’s juice into the slow cooker, crushing the tomatoes with your hands. Add the parsley and lemon juice. Allow just enough time to warm the tomatoes.
Serve this fabulous Puttanesca Ragù over polenta topped with Parmesan to taste.
Download Printable PDF Here: Slow-Roasted Pork Puttanesca Ragù
I used Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Ground Yellow Corn Meal and followed the recipe on the package.
That is all for now.
As a guest for this meal I vouch for it! So good and I don’t usually do “olives, capers and anchovies.” Loves the polenta that is was served with as an accompaniment. ????