Pork ragu inspired by La Posta

Tomorrow is our 19th wedding anniversary – 19 truly blissful years of living a cozy family-centric life by the sea. I’m completely appreciative of this life and these years, because it wasn’t always like this. Before LL I lived a comparatively vampirish life as a twenty-something back in St. Louis, energy waxing with sunset and waning at sunrise, tending bar until 1am then hitting a late-night spot or two to unwind. Moving through florescent and neon in a smoky haze. Weekend or weekday. Watching. Waiting. Wishing.

Then I made the cross-country move and discovered what I was looking for en plein air, life softly lit by the sea. I met LL and we were married in fairly short order, a family of two we quickly doubled in size. Old habits died fast and hard with babies and bills to take care of, and over the years my weeknight schedule has been unvarying: homework, dinner, TV, tuck-ins, books, and bed. A couple glasses of wine thrown in for good measure.

But the boys are older now, and life continues to change. Kid One spent last month in Argentina and Kid Two, of legal age to stay home alone, spent much of his winter break playing computer games with a new friend in Tasmania. So one Tuesday LL and I went out – at night! on a school night! – to join friends for dinner. Child-free and driving in the dark, two things I used to do every single night felt very strange to me now. We calculated that this most likely was literally the first time in our 19 year marriage we’d headed out for a casual weekday dinner with friends.

Our destination was La Posta Restaurant, a newish local spot that was recently written up in last month’s New York Times travel piece “36 Hours In Santa Cruz.” The place was hopping; a mandolin player was roaming, and the food – Italian with a local/California twist – was every bit as wonderful as the NYT said it would be. The mouth-watering menu was dotted with ingredients like roasted Brussels sprouts, yellowfin tina, local chanterelles and wild nettles. We kicked it off with selection of their house-cured salumi: fennel salami, smoky prosciutto, savory speck, spicy coppa. Then the salads: Dungeness crab, beets, and arugula drizzled with Meyer lemon aioli as well as an elegant pile of mixed baby lettuces tossed with tangy shallot vinaigrette and topped with shaved parmesan. Entrees: cloud-like buckwheat gnocchi with specks of speck speck served with a light cream sauce and a pizza with speck, arugula, and tangy tomato sauce. Mmm. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it again.

A couple of nights later, inspired by our friend’s short rib ragu and pappardelle entree, LL suggested we try to make a pork ragu with fresh pasta. It turned out great and very simple to make. Chop/prep time is only about 30 minutes, but it takes a while to cook to get the right consistency. I started this at noon and let it simmer all afternoon. Here’s my recipe; it easily serves 8-12. You could make this on a day off work and parcel it out for a few meals; it freezes well.

Pork Ragu:

  1. Wash and pat dry approximately 2 lbs pork tenderloin. Generously salt and pepper all around, then set aside.
  2. Pour a couple tablespoons olive oil in the bottom of the wok and let it get hot. (I use my wok as a combination saucepan and Dutch oven, a habit leftover from our sailboat days when we didn’t have room for lots of cookware.)
  3. Julienne 1 yellow onion and 1/2 a large fennel bulb, mince 2 garlic cloves, add it all to the oil, and caramelize.
  4. Remove the onion and fennel from the oil and set aside. Turn the heat up to high, add the pork loin, and brown all the sides.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Add back the onion and fennel along with a 16-oz can crushed tomatoes and a generous splash of red wine. Add 1 bay leaf.
  6. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat, cover (with steam escape), and simmer for several hours.
  7. When it’s finished you’ll be able to take a wooden spoon and easily break up the pork to make a thick sauce.

The first night we ate it with homemade pappardelle, just like the chef at La Posta did with the short rib dish. I’m not very good at making pasta (yet, I’m adding hopefully); I checked quite a few recipes trying to figure out the best egg/flour ratio. My first batch with a 1:1 ration was MUCH too stiff to work with. This one worked well.

We ate it on top of toasted sourdough with melted cheese tossed with penne, and rolled inside tortillas before it was finally gone.

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