Why It Works
- Gently reheating the pork in chicken stock keeps it from drying out, and allows it to marry with the soffritto to form a silky ragù.
- White wine and fresh lemon in the sauce help ward off the "warmed-over flavors" that often accompany reheated roast pork.
This pork shoulder ragù "in bianco" (a white meat sauce, made without any tomato product) is the result of our current quarantine conditions, combining the "component cooking" approach to meal planning and the need for getting creative with leftovers, with a dash of restaurant nostalgia. Inspired by the famous malfatti (which are really maltagliati, but that's an argument for another time) with braised suckling pig at the restaurant Maialino in New York, the star of this meat sauce is leftover roast pork—in this case, slow-roasted pork shoulder, unless of course you're the type of person who often has extra roast suckling pig kicking around.
The leftover pork is gently braised into a tender ragù with a fennel-onion soffritto, white wine, and chicken stock (if you saved the bones from your pork shoulder, you can earn extra leftover-ingenuity no-waste points* by making a quick stock with them). This sounds simple enough, but leftover pork presents a couple of issues that need to be addressed when it comes to reheating: "warmed-over flavor" and moisture retention.
In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee notes that reheating meat can produce stale flavors caused primarily by "unsaturated fatty acids, which are damaged by oxygen and iron from myoglobin," and due to its high proportion of unsaturated fat, pork is more susceptible to warmed-over flavor than beef or lamb. Along with tightly wrapping leftovers to minimize oxidation during storage, this problem can be further minimized by reheating meat with ingredients that contain antioxidants—hello, white wine phenols (which actually have a higher antioxidant capacity than red wine phenols). The wine in this ragù, and the pop of fresh lemon juice and zest added at the end (citrus also packs some antioxidant punch), work to stave off (and cover up) warmed-over flavors.
The moisture retention problem is a little trickier. When reheating a roast, it's best to have the meat in as large of a piece as possible (which also helps minimize oxidation because there's less surface area exposed to air), in order to gently warm the meat through and loosen the gelatinized collagen that has set at a lower temperature. However, that's not always possible when dealing with roast pork shoulder leftovers, which are oftentimes already pulled apart from when the roast was first served. In that case, it's best to either slowly crisp up the meat in some fat (as we do with our pork shoulder hash), or gently reheat the meat in a moist environment, which is what we do here. The pork is slowly reheated with stock until it shreds apart and marries with the soffritto to form a saucy ragù.
The sauce is finished with butter to give it a glossy sheen and a boost of dairy richness, which is then balanced with lemon juice and zest for bright acidity, and savory grated cheese. As with most slow-cooked meat sauces, this ragù in bianco is best paired with fresh egg dough pastas like pappardelle (the pappardelle in the photo were my first attempt at hand-rolled sfoglia verde using green ramp tops to color the dough and came out a little thicker than I'd like), tagliatelle, or maltagliati, but you can use dried penne as well. After all, this dish is about using up leftovers, not giving yourself a new big cooking project to tackle.
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) rendered pork fat from roast pork shoulder or extra-virgin olive oil (see note)
- 1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces; 225g), finely chopped
- 1 medium fennel bulb (about 10 ounces; 285g), cored and finely chopped, fronds reserved
- 1 celery stalk (about 2 ounces; 55g), finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium garlic clove (5g), minced
- 2 teaspoons (4g) finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1/2 cup (120ml) dry white wine
- 4 cups (1L) homemade pork or chicken stock, or store-bought low sodium chicken stock (see note)
- 1 pound (450g) roast pork shoulder, pulled into 2-inch long pieces (see note)
- Reserved drippings from roast pork shoulder (optional)
- 1 pound (450g) homemade or store-bought fresh egg dough pasta such as pappardelle, tagliatelle, or maltagliati, or dried penne
- 3 tablespoons (42g) unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon, plus 2 teaspoons finely grated zest
- 2 ounces (55g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
In a large stainless steel skillet or medium Dutch oven, heat rendered pork fat (or olive oil) over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, fennel, and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and just beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary (if using), and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add wine and cook, swirling pan and scraping up any stuck-on bits with a wooden spoon, until wine is reduced by a third, about 30 seconds.
Add stock, season lightly with salt, and bring to a boil. Add the pork and pork drippings (if using), reduce heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until pork is fully tender and easily shreds apart when pressed with a wooden spoon, and liquid is reduced to a saucy consistency, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta. If using fresh pasta, cook until noodles are barely cooked through. If using dry pasta, cook until just shy of al dente (1 to 2 minutes less than the package directs). Using either tongs (for long fresh pasta) or a spider skimmer (for short pasta), transfer pasta to pan along with 1/2 cup (120ml) pasta cooking water. Alternatively, drain pasta using a colander or fine-mesh strainer, making sure to reserve at least 2 cups (500ml) pasta cooking water.
Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring and tossing rapidly, until pasta is al dente and sauce is thickened and coats noodles, about 1 minute, adding more pasta cooking water in 1/4 cup (60ml) increments as needed. Add the butter and stir and toss rapidly to melt and emulsify into the sauce. Remove from heat, add lemon juice and zest, and 3/4 of grated cheese, and stir rapidly to incorporate. Season with salt to taste. Divide pasta between individual serving bowls, garnish with reserved fennel fronds, and sprinkle with remaining grated cheese. Serve immediately.
Large skillet with lid or Dutch oven, tongs or spider skimmer
If you happen to have saved pork bones from a slow-roasted pork shoulder, you can make a quick pork stock by simmering the bones with 10 cups of water, 1 coarsely chopped yellow onion, coarsely chopped stalks from 1 fennel bulb, 1 coarsely chopped celery stalk, and 2 sprigs fresh rosemary. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, and strain through a fine-mesh strainer to yield 4 cups pork stock.
This recipe has been tested with both leftover roast picnic shoulder and pork butt, and while both cuts work well, we prefer the tenderness and extra fattiness of pork butt. This article explains the differences between pork butt and picnic shoulder in more detail.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The pasta is best enjoyed immediately, but the ragù can be made through step 2 and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat gently in a large skillet with additional stock as needed, and then proceed with steps 3 and 4 of the recipe.