My husband lived for two years in central Italy -- have I mentioned that before? Well, he did.
We were married the fall after he returned to the States, and as long as we have been married he has been recounting to me dreamily the details of a dish of Braised Rabbit over Polenta he devoured one night.
Last year I decided I would finally recreate it for him.
Because I love him.
Very, very much.
But as much as I love him, I cannot bring myself to cook up a bunny. Is it just me? I can also add to my objection the tale my high school Italian teacher would tell wherein she cooked up her daughter's pet rabbit one night. She's a sweet, sweet lady, but that story gives me great pause even now, a decade later. (That can't be right... a decade?!?)
All that, plus I wouldn't know where to begin looking for a place to buy rabbit meat. So. You know.
In any case...
If there's anything my sweetheart loves it's pork. So pork it was, my hubby having decided that pork was an adequate substitute.
This is truly one of my favorite ways to enjoy pork. I mean, I like a good pork chop, and Balsamic Roasted Pork is a good time, too. But this recipe is just soul satisfying. The polenta helps it along to that end, of course.
My husband dreams of this and requests it at every possible special occasion. (Though he still wants me to try it with rabbit sometime... pray for me.)
To my view, it's the perfect Easter meal. Sure beats that roast ham you were thinking of having.
Well, at least I think so.
Any cut of pork would probably do. I like bone-in because the bones lend a great deal of flavor. And a good amount of fat is important to me, too. But if all you can find is boneless chops, never fear. If you only need to feed a couple of people, as is the case in our house most of the time, freeze half of it for a later date. Then you'll just need to warm it up and make polenta.
Braised Pork Ragu
adapted from Epicurious
4 lbs. bone-in, country-style pork ribs, cut into 2-rib portions OR 4 lbs. thick-cut, bone-in pork chops
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion (about 1 pound), chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 lg. cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1-2 tsp. Italian seasoning blend (I like Penzey's)
1, 28- to 32-oz. can whole tomatoes including juice, crushed (use a potato masher or your hands)
2 c. + 3 Tbsp. water, divided
salt and pepper to taste
Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven (I use my 5.5 qt. Le Creuset), heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown pork in batches, transferring with tongs to a bowl. In oil remaining in pan, sauté onion and celery, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Add garlic and tomato paste and sauté, stirring, 1 minute. Return pork to kettle and add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce to simmer. Simmer 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is falling apart.
Transfer pork to a cutting board to cool. In a small bowl stir together flour and remaining 3 tablespoons water and whisk into liquid remaining in kettle. Discard bones and fat from pork and chop or pull apart the meat. Return pork to pan, and continue to simmer until filling is reduced to about 6 cups. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
Meanwhile, work on making polenta.
Here's my favorite basic recipe:
1 1/2 c. polenta meal
4 1/2 c. water
3/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. butter
1 oz. cream cheese or mascarpone (optional, but highly recommended)
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese
Bring water to a boil over high heat. Add salt. Whisk in polenta meal a little at a time. Simmer, stirring frequently, until very thick, about 30 minutes. Stir in butter, cream cheese or mascarpone, and parmesan until blended.
To serve, divide polenta among bowls or deep plates, making a little well in the center. Fill the well with pork mixture and top with a generous pinch of parmesan and a sprinkle of parsley -- fresh or dried will do in my book.
Serves 6, generously.