Friday, February 12, 2010

Super Bowl Ragu

My mother began hosting Super Bowl parties when I was in high school so that my stepfather could watch the game with a big crowd. The guests were mostly my friends, though, because my parents’ friends don’t like football. Typically, my mom made spaghetti with meatballs—a dish that I’ve always found a little bland. When I took over the tradition about a dozen years ago, I changed the menu. This is one of my favorite recipes to make for a house full of people when I want to spend time with my guests and not in the kitchen.

(serves twelve)

6 oz pancetta
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
¼ c olive oil
3 lb ground meat (beef, pork, or sausage removed from its casing)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs dried oregano
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 c dry white wine
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 12-oz can tomato paste

1. Finely dice the pancetta. Finely chop the onion and garlic.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium flame. Sauté the pancetta and onion, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 12 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for another 2 minutes. Remove and set aside.

3. Adding the remaining olive oil, increase the flame under the pan to medium-high, and add half of the ground meat, seasoning it with salt and pepper. As the meat cooks, turn it with a spatula so that it browns well on all sides. Don’t crumble it, however. Merely break it up into pieces about an inch long (about the size of a large gumball). When done, remove and set aside. Repeat with the remaining meat, adding more olive oil if necessary.

4. Return the pancetta-onion mixture and the previously browned meat to the pan. Add the oregano and red pepper flakes, stirring to combine. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up and dissolve any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and half a cup of water. Stir to combine.

5. Bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the sauce for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. As the liquid in the sauce evaporates, add more water, half a cup at a time. Serve with penne.

• If you’ve never cooked with pancetta, this is a good time to start. Pancetta is an Italian form of bacon that you can buy from any decent butcher. I store large chunks of it in my freezer, but you can also buy it sliced. Because it’s so fatty, pancetta cuts easily, even when frozen. In fact, pancetta is much easier to dice when it is frozen, so don’t defrost it first.

• Don’t forget to put the pasta water on early. I cook three pounds of penne, so I use a big pot and a lot of water, which can take up to an hour to boil.

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