Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by their book, Almost Meatless.
Pork, mushrooms and broth simmer together to make this sauce rich with complex savory flavors. The studs of sweetness from the pears are an unexpected but appetizing partner for the other ingredients. Plus, the pears soften and help thicken the ragu, while keeping their shape and adding texture to the final dish.
Just a quarter-pound of pork forms the foundation of the sauce, creating the fond (better known as "tasty brown bits"), which are deglazed up from the bottom of the pan and into the simmering liquid. Use ground turkey, chicken or veal if you prefer any of them over pork. For a vegetarian version, brown the mushrooms first and proceed with the rest of the recipe.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- 2 large shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 pound cremini or button mushrooms, quartered
- 1 large pear (about 10 ounces), diced small
- 2 large garlic cloves, sliced
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
- 1 1/2 cups mushroom broth (vegetable or chicken stock can be substituted)
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound pasta (penne or your favorite variety)
- Freshly grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano
Heat half of the olive oil in a large, high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook to brown, about 5-7 minutes, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the shallots and sauté an additional 2-3 minutes.
Add the mushrooms to the pork and shallots and sauté 5-7 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to brown and soften. Stir in the pear and garlic, cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
Pour in the sherry and scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan as the liquid sizzles. Let the sherry reduce until it is almost dry. Add the thyme, broth, and vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, for 20-30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While the ragu simmers, cook pasta according to package directions. Strain the pasta and toss with the hot ragu. Top each serving with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh thyme leaves.