Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Italian Sausage Ragout...Warms the Soul!

My grandmother introduced me to a new/old expression yesterday that I adore -- "Blackberry Winter". This refers to the last bit of cold we might have down South in the springtime that happens to coincide with the first blackberries!

And in fact, we have been experiencing just such a cool snap here in South Carolina and where she lives in Georgia. It is really a time to be savored as any veteran Southerner knows that the sweltering days of summer will soon be upon us.

Of course, I associate any occasion with food, and consequently, I figured what better way to celebrate Blackberry Winter than with one last hearty dish. One of my favorite soul-warming meals that you can enjoy here at the Glass Onion is our pasta with Italian sausage ragout (aka Bolognese sauce.) Here is the recipe for you to try at home!

P.S. If you are wondering about the truth in the Blackberry Winter expression -- I have to admit that I have not seen any blackberries around Charleston yet, but my grandmother said a family friend just brought her a basketful!

Chuck's Italian Sausage Ragout

We call this an Italian Sausage Ragout, but really it's my partner's take on Bolognese, the classic northern Italian pasta sauce. Traditionally, it is tossed with fresh tagliatelle, but at the GO, we serve it with our housemade handkerchief pasta or locally made cavatelli. If you happen to enjoy making fresh pasta yourself, or can buy some, I would highly recommend taking that extra step, but even dried noodles produce an outstanding meal.

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped bacon (about 5 ounces or 4 to 5 standard grocery store slices)
1 pound ground pork butt
1 tablespoon toasted fennel seed, finely chopped or ground in spice grinder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup chopped onion (about 1/2 medium onion)
1/2 cup chopped carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
1/2 cup chopped celery (about 1 1/2 stalks)
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium garlic cloves)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken livers, pureed in blender or food processor or finely chopped
1 pound cooked pasta (of your choice)
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

In a large bowl break apart tomatoes with your hands; set aside.

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add ground pork, fennel, oregano, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly so that pork does not clump, for another 5 minutes. Add onions, carrot, and celery and cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, another 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, cream, stock, and tomato paste; stir to combine.

Simmer until about 75 percent of liquid has cooked down, about 45 minutes.

Add livers and cook another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest for another 5 minutes before tossing with pasta. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

P.S. Don't be scared off by the chicken livers that finish this dish. They add a necessary richness, but most folks would never place the flavor. They can be your "secret" ingredient!

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