Entries Tagged as 'pasta'

Ragu – Not The Stuff In A Jar


Recently, Frank and I enjoyed a lovely dinner at Rustico, a restaurant/gastropub in North Old Town, Alexandria. It was a dinner to remind me that I need to get the hell out of my own kitchen and enjoy great food that is right at my fingertips, so to speak. Not only does it save on cleaning the kitchen, but this dinner in particular served to give me inspiration–inspiration to make a ragu like the pork ragu over rigatoni I enjoyed so much, that I had to ask what seasonings etc. were used. Oregano, rosemary, thyme and garlic, I was told. Very simple, yet something else was going on. The pork tasted…nutty. “Ahh”, I thought-I’m tasting the pork. No, not just the pork, but what the pig ate. It was then that once again, I inquired (to the manager) about where they sourced their pork from. As I has suspected, the pork is from Babes in the Wood, a terrific producer in Virginia. Fortunately, I’m able to buy BITW products locally at the Alexandria Farmers Market on Saturday mornings, so I set out to buy pork shoulder (an excellent cut for braising), buy wound with two equally wonderful pork shanks, due to availability. After defrosting the meat, it was on to making the ragu.

Ragu–what do you think of first? The stuff in the jar, right? At least, I did. The brand has been around forever, and up until a few years ago, I might have bought it myself (now I generally make my own). And I know, ragu is also what many Italians call spaghetti sauce, or gravy. That’s the second thing that comes to my mind-a long-simmered sauce with bits of meat that gently cooks, tenderizes and flavors homemade meatballs while being stirred by Nona in her apron.


Ragu is a beloved Italian sauce from Emilia-Romagna and at its core, it is chopped meat(s), sauteed vegetables and liquid (wine, tomatoes, stock, milk, cream). In Northern Italy, ragu is typically chopped into the sauce, while in Southern Italy, meat may be cooked in the sauce, then served separately from it. With aristocratic origins, ragu became a peasant dish as a sauce served over pasta. Lesser, more affordable cuts of meat were braised often with tomatoes, and cream which rose to the top of a can of heated milk. Broth was not used, as it involved animal bones which were too expensive for most. Salt pork,  which was available and affordable, was added to the meat for bulk and flavor.

Many of you are perhaps familiar with Emilia-Romagna’s most famous ragu-bolognese. If you haven’t made bolognese from Marcella Hazan’s recipe, you owe it to yourself to do so. Not simply marinara with meat, Hazan’s bolognese is meat cooked in tomato, milk and white wine. Its richness and intensity of flavor is beyond compare-served most judiciously as a primi over tagliatelle.

Now, where was I? Oh right, ragu. Similar to bolognese, time, lots of love (I sound like Carla Hall, hootie-hoo y’all) and following 4 basic steps are required and apply to many braises, including osso bucco. First, season and sear your meat. This will create flavor. Second, saute a sofrito or mirepoix to create depth of flavor and aroma. Third, add liquid to cover meat by 1/2 to 3/4.  Fourth and last, allow the braise to refrigerate overnight. It will not only taste better, but you will be able to defat the liquid.

 These are the basics for this pork ragu, and after two days of preparation, Frank and I were finally able to sit down and and enjoy our ragu. The pork shank was succulent and deeply flavored from the braise. My version ended up being a bit heavier than Rustico’s, but terrific none the less.

So, if you can plan ahead, get a great piece of braising meat, and can wait the duration while your house smells like heaven, go ahead and make this ragu while the weather is still cool. Enjoy.

Pork Ragu with Rigatoni


  • 4-4 1/2 pounds pork shank (you can use pork shoulder, or beef shoulder/shank)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • fresh thyme
  • fresh oregano
  • fresh rosemary
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 3 celery stalks (leaves included, if you have them)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste



First, let me say something about seasoning long cooking dishes, such as braises. You want to layer flavors as well as layer seasoning. Adding salt layer by layer is very important. Begin by seasoning your meat and vegetables as you prepare them. Continue add salt judiciously as the braise cooks, because you don’t want to end up with an over-salted dish. The flavors of the braise concentrate as you cook, because inevidably, there is some evaporation during cooking, even if you are using a heavy-lidded pot, such as a dutch oven, which I highly recommend. You can always add more salt at the end, if needed.

For the rub

Peel 3-4 cloves of garlic and place in food processor. Add rosemary and oregano leaves. Pulse 5-6 times to chop the mixture. Slowly drizzle in evoo until the mixture is just past being a paste (you want to be able to liberally cover your pork). You may have noticed that i omitted the thyme from the rub. Fresh thyme leaves are very tiny and hard to harvest off of the stems. I simply rub the thyme whole over the pork and allow them to stay on the top and sides of the meat while marinating.


For the pork

Place pork in a deep dish, and pour rub over the pork. Add the thyme an rub the mixture over the pork. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the pork to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.


Take pork out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before searing. Remove thyme stems and discard. Liberally salt and pepper the pork on all sides. In a heated skillet or heavy-bottom pan, add about 3 tablespoons of evoo. Sear the pork on all sides, until browned. Discard the evoo.

While the meat in browning, roughly chop the carrots, celery and onion. Add to a food processor and blend until the sofrito mixture until smooth. Heat pan over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons evoo to pan and transfer sofrito to pan. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Saute the mixture for about 6-8 minutes to develop color on the vegetables, and fond in the pan. Add tomato paste and continue browning for another 5 minutes. Turn heat to high, push sofrito and tomato mixture to the sides of the pan, and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Allow the wine to reduce by half.

Decrease heat to medium and add the tomato paste and chicken stock. Stir to incorporate. If you are cooking the braise in the same pot, return the pork to the pot. If you are braising the ragu in a crock pot, pour the mixture over the pork which has been transfered to the crock pot. Add enough water to cover the meat by 3/4.  Add another 2 pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper.

Braise meat in a 300 degree pre-heated oven, or in a low crock pot for 6-7 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone/pulls apart easily.

Remove meat from the braising liquid and allow to cool for 20 minutes. Gently shred the meat, removing fat as needed (pork shanks have layers of fat between the meat which means more flavor) and reserve meat in a covered container in the refrigerator. Place braising liquid in the refrigerator and chill overnight. The next day, a layer of fat will have formed over the top. This fat can easily be removed with a slotted spoon.


Return meat to braising liquid and gently heat while you boil the pasta. Mix the two together and it’s mangia time!! Serve with a sharp pecorino cheese if you like. I’m not sure it’s authentic, but it’s my belief that anything can be made better with cheese.


At The Old Town Market August 9, 2008-Operation Recuperation Edition With Pasta Primavera


I’m blogging from bed today yesterday. In fact, I’ve been in bed for two three days and aside from a trip to the doctor this yesterday morning, my ass is melding to my mattress.  Right about on Sunday morning,  a head cold went full steam ahead into a phlemy mess in my lungs (oh great–you thought you’d get food photos and here I am regaling you with my mucus moments). Thanks to the good care of Frank, drugs, and the company of my (faithful yet increasingly bored) dogs, I should be on the mend soon. And I do hope so, since we bought a sac-full of produce and fruit from the market that’s just waiting for us. It’s pretty sad when I looked at my precious tomatoes and corn and preferred to eat a can of Progresso Chicken Soup instead. I needed the steam.


Before I got sick, I did manage to make a lovely raspberry sorbet with berries I bought from Cameron Berry Farm,  whose stand is at the NE corner of the fountain’s pool–do check them out for berries, fresh cut herbs, zucchini blossoms, edible nasturtiums and their unique eight ball zucchini, which I’m not sure you should eat or mainline. Cameron’s raspberries were quite robust–looking like they had been picked just before the market (ie: not smushed). My raspberry sorbet would make a wonderful palette-cleansing intermezzo, or a light and summery end to a meal.  I’ll post some pics and a really easy recipe to make it a bit later.

Meanwhile, I’m trying to eat my veggies etc. and fortify myself with as many “super-foods” as I can so I can get well and get to the markets this weekend. So, last night, I was able to make a one dish meal — a pasta primavera with zucchini, squash, peppers, tomatoes, onions and garlic that just needed to be used up. I paired it with Barilla wheat corkscrew pasta and topped it with Fresh Joseph’s homemade mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese. Fresh Joseph’s is the stand with fresh squeezed OJ that you may have noticed at the Old Town and West End markets.

Until the next At The Market, eat and buy local when you can.


One Dish Whole Wheat Pasta Primavera


  • 1 box whole wheat pasta (I used Barilla Rotelli)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 zucchini, quartered
  • 1 yellow squash, quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian herbs
  • 1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Fresh mozzarella, sliced


Fill an all-purpose pot with water and cook pasta according to packge directions (remember to salt the pasta water). Drain pasta when it is al dente and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Return the pot to the stove over medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onions and garlic for 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add zucchini, squash, peppers, tomatoes, Italian herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper, and continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add pasta, pasta sauce, pasta water and a large handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, turn on broiler. Top pasta with sliced mozzarella cheese. Place under broiler and allow to melt. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan to pass at the table.

Fettuccine With Rainbow Chard And Grilled Chicken In A Gorgonzola And White Wine Sauce

Whew! That’s a long name for a simple dish.


I promised myself that this week, I would work my way through all the produce I bought from the farmers market (am I the only one who is guilty of throwing away produce because it spoils before I get around to using it ??). J&W Valley View Farm (Westmoreland County, VA) had such gorgeous greens that I went a bit crazy buying at the Alexandria West End farmers market last Sunday! With a bunch of spinach, I made a salad topped with grilled chicken and spring onions, Gorgonzola cheese, strawberries and pecans. I grilled up 4 chicken breasts and saved two of them for the dish I made last night.

I used the remaining Gorgonzola and chicken breasts, sauteed J&W rainbow chard and made a simple white wine sauce which I tossed with fettuccine. Oh, and to gild the lily, I sprinkled some Pecorino cheese on top!

It was all soooo Robin Miller.

Still in my refrigerator is parsley, cilantro and bok choy. Any ideas HG readers??



Fettucine With Rainbow Chard And Grilled Chicken In A Gorgonzola And White Wine Sauce



  • 1 box fettuccine, cooked according to package directions
  • 2 chicken breasts, grilled and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (reserve a few crumbles to top dishes)
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


Place a pan over medium heat. Add olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add onions and garlic. Sautee for 3-4 minutes. Add chard and saute for 5 minutes, or until it wilts. Remove pan contents to a bowl.

Increase heat to high and add wine. Allow wine to reduce by half. Add chicken stock. With the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and flour, make a beurre manie*. Stir beurre manie into the liquid and bring to a boil. Add gorgonzola, chicken and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a large bowl, toss fettucine and chicken with Gorgonzola sauce. Sprinkle with reserved Gorgonzola crumbles and grated Parmesan or Pecorino prior to serving.

This recipe has been submitted to Presto Pasta Night. PPN is a fun weekly blog event sponsored by Ruth at Once Upon A Feast.

*A beurre manie is a dough, or paste made my mixing equal parts soft butter and flour. It can be used to thicken soups and sauces.

Braised Chicken Thighs With Morels And Ramps In A White Wine Cream Sauce


I was excited and a bit nervous when it came to using my $16 box of morel mushrooms, and $6 bunch of ramps on Sunday. At $21 for just the vegetables, I wanted to make those ingredients shine in a dish for dinner. I consulted a few of my cookbooks and riffed on a braised chicken dish from Molly Steven’s “All About Braising”, and while my chicken dish was cooking, I made a batch of ramp crepes to use with the leftover braise.


I found that my small container of 8 or so morels was more than adequate to add an earthy flavor to the braised chicken, while the ramps were mild and somewhat sweet in both the braise and the crepes. I think both dishes would work for entertaining guests, and the chicken filled crepes would make for a terrific brunch item-especially since everything can be made ahead of time.

For the ramp crepe recipe, head over to DC Foodies to check it out!


Braised Chicken Thighs with Morels and Ramps in a White Wine Cream Sauce

Serves 4-6


  • 8 chicken thighs with bone and skin
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8-10 morel mushrooms
  • bunch ramps, about a dozen, trimmed at each end and rough chopped
  • 1 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup half and half or light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Flour for dredging


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat a large dutch oven over high heat.

Generously salt and pepper chicken thighs on both sides. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

Add olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter to heated dutch oven. When the oil begins to shimmer, add chicken to the pan. Do not overcrowd the pan. Allow chicken to brown for 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a platter.

Reduce heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon butter to the dutch oven. Add morels and ramps. Sautee for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and continue to sautee for an additional minute. Transfer vegetables to the chicken platter.

Increase heat to high and deglaze with white wine. Reduce to a strong simmer and allow wine to reduce by a third. Add chicke stock, thyme and marjoram. Return chicken and vegetables to  braising vessel.

Place dutch oven in lower third of the oven. Braise for 90 minutes.

Remove chicken from the dutch oven, skim fat as needed with a large spoon, and add cream. Serve chicken with sauce over top.

I suggest serving this dish over egg noodles or parsley potatoes.

This recipe is submitted for Weekend Herb Blogging, a weekly blog event started by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, and is being hosted this week by Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Lasagna A La Mona


I’ve been making lasagna for many years and have come to put my own “signature” on my version. It’s not particularly traditional-but as Rachel Ray would say, “there’s things in there that will make your guests go hmmmmm”. And Yum-O! And hopefully, “can I have the recipe?”

The twists that I put on my lasanga are: using bell peppers to compliment the ground meat, adding nutmeg as a background taste to the meat and cheese, adding lemon zest to offset and balance the creaminess of the cheese, and adding the tang of cream cheese because I saw Paula Deen do this once, and dang! it’s good!

As always, making a lasagna will feed a crowd and while it’s time consuming to put together, the work is all up front. Once assembled, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to a day before making it-leaving plenty of time to clean the kitchen!

This lasagna is a please your family- feed a crowd-hook your boyfriend good. Just ask my husband, Frank ;-)

Most of all, lasagna just says love.

 Lasagna a la Mona


  • Lasagan noodles, cooked according to package direction and enough to make 3 layers of pasta
  • 2.5 lbs. meatloaf mix, or ground beef
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian herbs
  • 2 lb. container of ricotta
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella, plus 1/4 cup for topping
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, pluse 1/4 cup for topping and more for passing at the table. About 2 cups total
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 ounce cream cheese or neufastchel cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 1 24 oz. jar marinara


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and bell peppers. Saute for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking for an additional 3 minutes. Remove to a large bowl. Increase heat to high and add ground meat. Season meat with salt, pepper, nutmeg and Italian herbs.Using a spatula, chop meat and cook thoroughly. At this point, you may want to drain meat in a collander to remove excess fat and liquid. Combine meat with the cooked vegetables.

In another large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, cream cheese, lemon zest and egg.

To assemble:

In a large lasagna pan, place about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce and spread evenly to cover bottom of pan. Place one layer of lasanga noodles. Spread more marinara over noodles to cover evenly. Top evenly with one half of the cheese, then one half of the meat and vegetable mixture.

Place another layer of lasagna noodles on top and press down to even the bottom layer and spread the filling evenly. Repeat with marinara, cheese and meat mixture.

Place the top layer of lasanga noodles over the second layer of filling and press down to evenly distribute filling evenly. Pour marinara over top layer to cover evenly. Reserve the rest of the marinara to serve warm at the table.

Cover lasagna with foil and place on middle rack of oven. Cook for one hour. Remove foil and sprinkle reserved mozzarella and parmesan evenly over top.

Turn on broiler. Place lasanga under broiler to melt cheese and lightly brown the top.

Allow the lasagna to rest for 15 minutes before cutting. This is very important-it will allow the lasagna to “set up” and keep your slices together when plated.

Serve with more parmesan and the remaining warmed marinara at the table.


Lasagna a la Mona is being submitted to Presto Pasta Night-a fun weekly blog event sponsored by Ruth at Once Upon A Feast.