THIS POST IS SPONSORED BY
the National Pork Board, who I’m so excited to partner & share with you this fall. We will explore the deliciously wonderful world of pork together, starting today in Italy! All thoughts & opinions are my own.
As I write this, Chris & I should be holed up in a villa somewhere in Tuscany, eating as much pasta & drinking as much Italian wine as humanly possible in celebration of our 5 year wedding anniversary. We didn’t honeymoon after our wedding, so we always planned to go big on year 5.
2020 has had other plans for us, to put it lightly, & I know many of you are in similar positions. Major wanderlust, but majorly stuck at home.
This is one of the reasons I’m so excited to be partnering with the National Pork Board for the rest of the year, contributing to their Pork Passport program, the spirit of which celebrates the delicious world of pork. As an ingredient that’s used & well-loved in different cultures throughout the world, cooking with pork is a fun & exciting way to explore different dishes & cuisines all from the comfort of our very own kitchens.
We’re kicking things off today with Slowly Braised Pork Ragu Pappardelle.
My love for pork ragu pappardelle stems in part from nostalgia. During my gap year after college, I worked as a server in a fine-dining Italian restaurant in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. In my time there, I fell head over heels in love with all things Italian food & wine.
Among the many traditional Italian dishes on our menu was Chef’s specialty – Ragu della Casa, a scratch-made ragu served with fresh, hand-cut pappardelle. Our special ragu changed every week to highlight a different main ingredient – everything from wild boar to pheasant or even wild mushroom. My personal favorite? Maiale – braised pork ragu.
This Slowly Braised Pork Pappardelle is my take on that authentic Italian restaurant dish: succulent, melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder simmered in a rich tomato sauce & tossed into pappardelle pasta. It’s cozy, indulgent & feels especially celebratory, but it’s also the kind of thing that’s really easy to make at home with the right ingredients. You will love it.
It might not be a quaint villa experience in Italy, but I’m pretty sure it’s the next best thing! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Braised Pork Ragu Pappardelle, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
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First thing’s first…what is ragu sauce?
Before jumping into the nitty gritty of this pork ragu recipe, let’s chat ragu for a second. What even is ragu?!
If you’re wondering this, you’re not alone! It was one of the most frequently asked questions from my restaurant guests back in the day, too.
Simply put, ragu is a term used to describe a slowly simmered, hearty Italian meat sauce typically served with pasta. Ragu tends to be slowly cooked & rich in flavor, & it’s meant to really showcase the meat (or meaty element, like mushrooms) at the center of the dish.
While ragu usually has slowly simmered tomatoes (like marinara sauce) & it’s usually finished with milk or cream (like creamy pasta dishes), it’s its own category of Italian pasta sauce. Ragu is all about the meat. (Perhaps, without even knowing it, you’ve enjoyed the most famous ragu – bolognese!)
Today we’re making pork shoulder ragu. When slowly simmered, pork shoulder becomes melt-in-your-mouth fall-apart tender. It’s pretty heavenly, & quite honestly perfect for a dish like ragu.
If you’ve never made ragu before, trust that you’re in good hands here. I’ve been cooking various ragu recipes for the past 10+ years, ever since my serving days. To this day, it’s one of my favorite things to cook, & I’m pretty sure you’ll love it too.
Using only simple ingredients & a very straightforward technique, this pork ragu is a minimal-effort-maximum-results type of recipe that you’ll come back to it time & time again.
Pork shoulder ragu ingredients:
This pork shoulder ragu recipe definitely leans into the Italian philosophy of giving a few simple, high-quality ingredients a little TLC to make them absolutely shine. Most, if not all, of the ingredients used in this recipe are staples in any well-stocked kitchen.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card.
To make this braised pork ragu, you will need:
- Boneless pork shoulder, which is also commonly called a Boston butt or pork butt. Look for a meaty roast with nice marbling, which, when braised, transforms into succulent, fall-apart tender pork & richly, deeply flavored sauce. Learn more about pork shoulder here.
- Soffritto, otherwise known as the Italian holy trinity of carrot, onion, & celery. I like chopping my soffritto by hand for bigger, chunkier pieces of veggies in my ragu sauce, but you can also grate the veggies in a food processor to cut down on active prep time.
- Garlic, of course, & a few other aromatics, like bay leaves & fresh herbs. This pork ragu recipe calls for a combination of fresh rosemary, sage & thyme, as they all complement the flavor of pork beautifully. You can usually find this combination of herbs sold in a single pack of “poultry blend” herbs at the grocery store.
- Wine. It wouldn’t be pasta sauce without a little wine! Typically you’ll find that ragu recipes call for bold red wine. Since the flavor of the pork is a little more delicate, I opt for white wine in this pork shoulder ragu. Any nice, dry white will do the trick…bonus points if its Italian!
- Tomatoes, namely the perfect combination of tomato paste for its concentrated flavor & crushed tomatoes, which add a velvety body to the pork ragu sauce. If you can find fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, snag them & use them your homemade ragus & pasta sauces! Fire roasting adds extra depth of flavor.
- & lastly, a little heavy cream & parmesan to help bring the sauce together.
Quick Tip – Pork Ragu Meal Prep:
Nearly all of the hands-on prep for this braised pork ragu comes from chopping up the soffritto. I like to chop everything up ahead of time so when I’m ready to make my ragu, I can jump right into cooking. A bit of stirring & stove time is still involved, but cutting out the active prep time makes this pork ragu the kind of thing you could do any afternoon.
15-Minute Meal Prep: Simply chop up the carrots, onion & celery, & store the soffritto veggies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
How to make braised pork ragu:
Building off the simplicity of the ingredients list, making this pork shoulder ragu is also pretty straight-forward. It’s a very standard braise, consisting of 3 main phases: browning, deglazing, & simmering.
Note: Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, provided in the Recipe Card.
First, brown the pork shoulder:
Browning is an incredibly important step in any braised meat dish for 2 primary reasons. First, it creates a “crust” on the meat, which prevents it from drying out as it braises by locking in all of its juices. (No sad, dried-out pork here!) Second, as the meat browns, it leaves browned bits on the bottom of the pan (fond being the technical French term), which is what creates the base flavor of the braising liquid.
Next, brown the soffritto:
Similar to browning the pork shoulder, browning the ragu veggies is a critical step in making a flavorful ragu. Many of the ragu recipes I’ve read over the years call for simply cooking the soffritto for a couple of minutes, just until softened, & I couldn’t disagree with them more! The soffritto is the base of the ragu sauce. In giving the soffritto plenty of time to brown – we’re talking 15-20 minutes – you ensure your ragu sauce has deep, rich flavor.
Once the aromatics are browned, slowly add white wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits (fond) that have built up on the bottom of the pot. Again, browned bits = FLAVOR. Take your time slowly pouring, scraping up as much as you can.
Build the sauce & simmer:
Once deglazed, build the ragu by adding in the rest of its components: fresh herbs, bay leaves, tomatoes, & some cooking stock. Transfer the browned pork back into the pot, nestling it into the sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover the pot & reduce to a simmer.
How long to cook ragu sauce? Let the ragu simmer until the pork shoulder is fall-apart tender, which takes 2 1/2 – 3 hours on the stovetop.
Be sure to check out the Recipe Notes, below, for alternative methods, including oven braise, slow cooker, & electric pressure cooker.
Finish the sauce:
Once the pork is fall-apart tender, transfer it to a plate or cutting board & use tongs or a couple of forks to shred it into bite-sized pieces. Feel free to shred it as chunky or fine as you’d like. Return to the pot & stir it into the sauce. At this point, your kitchen should smell like heaven & your braised pork ragu is ready to be used!
Serving braised pork ragu:
Serving ragu is not quite as simple as spooning it over your pasta of choice – this is the biggest mistake I see home cooks make when it comes to preparing pasta dishes!
Pasta should always cook with the sauce for a couple of minutes, which helps the two components come together as a single dish.
To properly finish your pork ragu pappardelle, add the al dente pasta right into the ragu & toss to combine. Use a little heavy cream & parmesan to bind it together, then let the pasta simmer with the ragu for 1-2 minutes. The starch in the pasta will absorb some of the ragu as it simmers, creating one cohesive pasta dish.
What pasta is best with pork ragu?
I love serving this pork shoulder ragu with a wide & flat noodle, such as pappardelle; its width stands up to the bits & pieces in the ragu sauce beautifully.
If you prefer to use a short noodle, try rigatoni; its tubular shape catches & encases the ragu sauce for the most perfect bites of pasta.
A few other options for serving: Spoon the ragu overtop creamy polenta (reminiscent of what you’d find in Northern Italy) or simmer it with dumplings, such as gnocchi or cavatelli, for an extra cozy & hearty meal.
More pork shoulder ragu FAQs:
Before jumping into the recipe, a few more FAQs. The beauty of this pork shoulder ragu recipe – or any ragu recipe, really – is that it’s pretty darn flexible. It’s make-ahead friendly, it stores like a dream, & this recipe can be adapted for the oven, a slow cooker, or an electric pressure cooker.
Here’s what you need to know:
Make-Ahead Pork Ragu & How to Store It:
Braised pork ragu is the kind of thing that gets better & better the longer it sits; its rich flavors develop & meld with time. Pork ragu will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 4-5 days. Feel free to make it ahead of time for an easy dinner down the line, or have a Sunday night feast & enjoy the leftovers for lunch.
Freezing Pork Ragu:
This pork ragu recipe makes a big batch of sauce. If you have a smaller family or you only typically cook for a couple of mouths, definitely freeze leftover sauce for later. Pork ragu will keep, frozen in a freezer container, for up to 3 months. I like dividing our leftovers into smaller containers for a perfectly portioned dinner & easier thawing.
Alternative Cooking Methods:
As written, this pork ragu recipe is made with a stovetop braise. Based on the amount of time you have, you can easily adapt it with a few other commonly loved techniques:
- Can I make pork ragu in the oven? Yes! Rather than letting it simmer on the stovetop for a few hours, you can also pop the ragu into a 325 degree oven for a totally hands-off braise. More information in the Recipe Card, below.
- Can I make pork ragu in a slow cooker? Yes! Brown off the pork & soffritto on the stovetop then transfer it into a slow cooker with the rest of the sauce ingredients & let it slowly cook for 6-8 hours. If your slow cooker has a “brown/saute” feature, even better – you can make this recipe start-to-finish in the slow cooker. More information in the Recipe Card, below.
- Can I make pork ragu in an electric pressure cooker? Yes! Use the electric pressure cooker’s “brown/saute” feature to brown the pork & soffritto right in the pot before building the sauce & pressure cooking. Pork ragu will take 45-60 minutes to cook in a pressure cooker & it’ll be ready once the pork shoulder is fall-apart tender. More information in the Recipe Card, below.
I can’t wait for you to make Braised Pork Ragu Pappardelle in your own kitchens this fall & winter. This is one of my signature recipes, & I know you’re going to love it as the cozy season sets in this year.
If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know: Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡Print
Succulent, juicy pork shoulder slowly simmers in a rich tomato sauce until it’s fall-apart tender before finishing with a splash of cream & a generous sprinkling of parmesan. Toss it into pappardelle pasta for the best homemade Italian meal. You will love this Slowly Braised Pork Ragu recipe!
for the Braised Pork Ragu Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat & cut into 6 large pieces
- 3 large carrots, peeled & diced
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 stalk celery, finely diced
- 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup dry white wine
- one (1) 0.75-ounce package fresh “poultry herb blend” (or approx. 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, 4 sprigs fresh sage leaves & 12 sprigs fresh thyme)
- 2 bay leaves
- one (1) 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth or stock
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
for the Pork Ragu Pappardelle:
- 20–30 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other pasta of choice
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- heaping 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- for serving, as desired: grated parmesan, finely chopped fresh herbs, etc.
Braised Pork Ragu Sauce:
- Brown the pork shoulder: Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I use a 5-qt Dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Use paper towel to pat the pork shoulder as dry as possible. Generously season the pork shoulder with 2 teaspoons each kosher salt & ground black pepper. Once the oil in the pot shimmers, carefully add in the seasoned pork shoulder. Work in batches, as necessary, to avoid overcrowding the pot (which prevents browning). Cook for 4-5 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Transfer the browned pork to a plate & set aside.
- Brown the soffritto: If needed, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pot used in Step 1 & reduce heat to medium. Once hot, add in the soffritto (carrots, onion, & celery), seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt & ground black pepper & stirring to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until deeply browned, 15-20 minutes.
- Add aromatics. Add the garlic to the pot with the soffritto. Stirring constantly, cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the pot, stirring to coat the soffritto. Cook 2-3 minutes, until browned.
- Deglaze: Increasing the heat to medium-high, pour the white wine into the pot. Stir constantly, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that may have formed at the bottom of the pot. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until the wine is almost completely absorbed into the soffritto.
- Simmer: Tie the herbs together using kitchen twine (or finely chop if you do not have twine), then add to the pot with the bay leaves. Add the crushed tomatoes, water (or broth/stock), & browned pork shoulder from Step 1. Stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a low. Cover & simmer, stirring occasionally, for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, or until the pork is fall-apart tender. If the ragu begins to reduce too much (i.e. it loses too much of its liquid too quickly), feel free to add in a splash more water &/or reduce the heat further.
- Finish the braised pork ragu: Carefully transfer the pork to a plate or cutting board. At this point, you can remove & discard the spent herbs & bay leaves from the pot, as well. Use tongs or 2 forks to shred the pork into bite-sized pieces. Return the shredded pork to the pot with the ragu. Stir to combine. At this point, you can cool & store for later use (see Recipe Notes for storage & freezing directions), or proceed with making the pork ragu pappardelle (below).
Pork Ragu Pappardelle:
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pappardelle and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked to al dente according to package directions. Carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot, reserving about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, and set aside. Carefully drain the pappardelle – do NOT rinse it!
- Finish the pork ragu sauce: Meanwhile, as the pasta boils, bring the braised pork ragu up to a simmer. Stir in the heavy cream & parmesan cheese. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
- Pork ragu pappardelle: Add the cooked pappardelle pasta to the pot with the braised pork ragu sauce, tossing to coat. The pork ragu should evenly coat the pasta. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the ragu needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if it needs to tighten up a little. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the ragu.
- Serve: Portion the pork ragu pappardelle into individual pasta bowls, topping with additional grated parmesan, chopped fresh herbs, &/or crushed red pepper as desired. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Make-Ahead, Storage & Freezing:
- Storage Instructions: Pork ragu sauce stores incredibly well – it’s the type of thing that gets even better as it sits & its flavors have the chance to meld together. To store, prep the sauce through Step 6 of Recipe Directions, above. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Whip up a batch of pork ragu pappardelle during the week by reheating the braised pork ragu in a skillet, & completing the recipe according to “Pork Ragu Pappardelle” Steps 1-4, above.
- Freezing Instructions: Pork ragu is also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, transfer the cooled pork shoulder ragu sauce to a freezer container (or divide it up between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions). Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen ragu in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Reheat the ragu sauce in a skillet. The thawed ragu sauce will be a little watery at first, which is totally expected. Let any residual water simmer out before completing the recipe according to “Pork Ragu Pappardelle” Steps 1-4, above.
- Alternate Cooking Methods:
- Oven Braised Pork Ragu: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-5, above. Rather than braising on the stovetop, transfer the covered pot to a 325 degree F oven. Braise in the oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender, then finish the pork ragu sauce as directed in Step 6 & complete the recipe according to “Pork Ragu Pappardelle” Steps 2-4.
- Slow Cooker Pork Ragu: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-4, above. Transfer the soffritto mixture to the slow cooker, along with the aromatics, tomatoes, water (or broth), & browned pork shoulder as directed in Step 5. Slow cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 7-8 hours, stirring occasionally. Finish the pork ragu sauce as directed in Step 6 & complete the recipe according to “Pork Ragu Pappardelle” Steps 2-4, which you can do right in your slow cooker. If your slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to cook the entire ragu sauce recipe (Steps 1-6) in the slow cooker.
- Electric Pressure Cooker Pork Ragu: Use your electric pressure cooker’s “Sauté” setting to cook the recipe according to Steps 1-5, above. Cover & seal the pressure cooker and cook on manual high pressure for 50 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release pressure for 10 minutes before carefully flicking the valve to its “venting” position to vent out any residual pressure. If the ragu seems a little too liquidy, feel free to turn on the Sauté setting again, letting the sauce simmer down a little before finishing as directed in Steps 6. Complete the recipe according to “Pork Ragu Pappardelle” Steps 2-4, which you can do right in your pressure cooker pot.
Keywords: pork ragu, braised, pork shoulder, pasta recipes, Italian recipes, comfort food recipes
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.
Obsessed with Braised Pork Ragu Pappardelle? Here are a few more classic Italian Recipes you’ll love:
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- Quick & easy: 5-Ingredient Pomodoro Sauce
- Perfect for weeknights: 20-Minute Spicy Italian Sausage & Peppers Pasta
- An Italian-American staple: Pasta Marsala
- A classic, with a twist! Gnocchi all’Amatriciana
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