Slow Food: Rustic Pork Ragu

I know I just wrote an entire post about how much I dislike Toronto’s cold winters, but the truth is that it’s actually been an incredibly mild winter so far – aside from one or two particularly cold days courtesy of a passing blast of arctic air, the thermostat has rarely dropped below -5C, and my pretty new down parka has spent more time in my coat closet than it has out of it.

Rustic Pork Ragu with Pasta

I guess that might explain why it’s already mid-January and I’ve yet to make most of my cold-weather standbys, aside from my mom’s pot roast with onions and this ragu.

A proper slow-simmered ragu is one of those rituals I normally reserve for the very coldest days of the winter, when a border of lacy frost frames the view from our bedroom window, and the chill wind sends little tendrils of cold slithering out from beneath the kitchen cupboards to tickle my toes.  On those days, the easiest way to combat the cold is to put on a pair of thick wooly socks and put a big pot of ragu into the oven to simmer away for the better part of the afternoon.

Pork Shoulder Roast

My basic ragu has evolved from Jonathan Levitt’s recipe for Short Rib Ragu, which was published in the Boston Globe some years ago.  The original is deceptively simple – meaty short ribs, tomato paste, onion, garlic, good-quality tinned tomatoes and star anise.

Yep. Star anise. As weird as it might sound, the star anise enhances the “meaty” flavour of the sauce. (At least, that’s what Heston Blumenthal says, and given that he’s an insane genius when it comes to food, I’m rather inclined to believe it’s true… and I can personally vouch for the fact that the final product does not in any way taste licoricy.)

Pork Ragu Ingredients

Over time, I’ve adjusted the ingredients somewhat, and tend to vary my meat of choice depending on my mood and what happened to look good at the meat counter when I went shopping.

This version uses a bone-in pork roast, but short ribs, oxtail and even bone-in lamb stew are good choices – the magic is in the bones, which give the ragu a silky, rich quality that no boneless cut could ever match.

Rustic Pork Ragu

The real secret to this ragu, though, is patience.  The patience to wait to thoroughly brown the pork roast on all sides, the patience to gently saute a mixture of onions and tomato paste until the onions yield and soften, and the patience to wait a whole three hours before eating your ragu, no matter how delicious the house might smell in the meantime. (However, you do not need the patience to wait until dinnertime to have a glass of wine from that bottle you just opened… go ahead, you’ve earned it.)

It’s worth every minute of the time it takes to prepare.  There’s a deeply flavourful, incredibly tender meat sauce awaiting you on the other side. Pinky swear.  And as a bonus, this recipe makes enough sauce for several dinners, which means you’ll have plenty left over to store in the freezer for a wintry day.

Rustic Pork Ragu with Pasta
The timing couldn’t be better, either.  The local news says our little reprieve will soon be over, and we’ll soon be returning to our regularly scheduled winter, snow and all.  And when it does, I’ll be ready… I’ve got a cute new parka, a warm wooly hat, a big pail of sidewalk de-icer, a few packages of Mexican hot chocolate, and a stockpile of this Pork Ragu in the freezer. Winter? I say bring it!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Rustic Pork Ragu
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serve this rich, meaty ragu with a tangle of long, wide noodles like pappardelle or fettucine, or spoon it onto soft, creamy polenta. A sprinkling of Parmesan and a big glass of red wine are optional, but definitely recommended.
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 8
  • 4 lbs bone-in pork shoulder roast
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely minced
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cans (796mL each) Italian plum tomatoes, crushed
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Cooked pasta or polenta (for serving)
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese (for garnish)
  1. Using a sharp knife, cut away most of the fatty layer on the top of the roast and discard, leaving just a very thin layer of fat behind. Pat the meat dry, and season generously with salt and pepper on all sides.
  2. In a large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Sear the pork for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until evenly browned all over. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 250F.
  4. While the oven preheats, add the onions and tomato paste to pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the onion is very soft. Add garlic and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.
  5. Stir in the red wine, scraping up any browned bits that might be left on the bottom of the pan, then add the crushed tomatoes and their juice. Return the roast to the pot. Increase the heat to high, and bring the mixture to a boil.
  6. Wrap the star anise and bay leaf in a cheesecloth pouch, and nestle into the sauce. Cover the pot, and transfer to preheated oven to cook for 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and falling away from the bone. Discard the star anise and bay leaf.
  7. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, shred the pork into bite sized pieces using two forks. Discard the bone and any gristly bits, and return the shredded pork to the pot.
  8. To serve, ladle the ragu onto hot pasta or polenta, and top with Parmesan cheese if desired.



  1. Susan says

    Wow! Even though I live in SoCal where it rarely dips into the 30s, I know I have to make this dish! My husband ordered something similar at a restaurant and he loved it, so you know it will only be exponentially better made at home! I’m also intrigued by the star anise.

    Great photos – great blog! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Isabelle says

      So glad you liked this recipe, Kyle! The idea of serving on mashed potatoes never occurred to me, but that sounds awfully tasty.

  2. Anita says

    Made this tonight using country style pork ribs. Came out divine! It does make a good amount. Thanks for the recipe.

    • Isabelle says

      Thanks, Anita. So glad you enjoyed it!
      This recipe does make a ton of sauce, but I figure anything that takes 3 hours to make is only worth making in very large quantities. :)

  3. Renee says

    I’ve never made ragu before, but given the frigid temps here in Saskatoon, I think I need to do so this weekend. Great post!

  4. Grubarazzi (@Grubarazzi) says

    This is such a gorgeous recipe. The star anise knocks it out of the park. Will certainly be trying this soon.

  5. Kita says

    We’ve had little need to pull out the wool socks here this winter as well and it’s throwing off my winter cooking mojo. I love how you described when you enjoying cooking this, I could feel the cold from the glass.
    This ragu looks and sounds so amazing, I’m glad you braved the heat wave to make it.

  6. Lindsay @ Rosemarried says

    Ragu is the ultimate winter meal. I just made Oxtail ragu this week, and I think you’ve just inspired me to make it with pork in the very near future. Looks wonderful.

  7. Kim Bee says

    Isabelle I am about 4 hours from you, near Windsor and man did the cold hit big time. I’m sitting here trying to decide if I want to put on the woolies and drive to the barn to see the horse. I’m leaning towards a huge no. Lol! This is one rustic and beautiful ragu. You really knocked this one out of the park.

  8. Kimmy @ Lighter and Local says

    I’m always on the hunt for ragu sauces. I love nothing better than a slow cooked thick sauce on a Sunday night! I hope you’re well!

  9. bungon says

    I like pork cooked this way. Pork is tender and sauce is good. And especially to eat pasta with it..I want to eat now!!!

  10. Sandra says

    I am the boss of me and I will enjoy this meal whether it’s cold outside or not. And I will have a glass (or two) of wine while I impatiently wait.

  11. Janet@FCTC says

    Oh my yes, I can see this being a great Winter dish… and Summer, and Spring and Autumn….

  12. Emily @ Life on Food says

    Oh man this looks good. Great for a Sunday of just sitting and smelling the wonderful flavors.

  13. Deanna B. says

    I love ragu. It really does have warming properties. And I almost always make a double batch and freeze 1/2 for those cold days when I don’t have time to make it fresh.

  14. Samantha says

    Oh man I’m a veggie but Vince isn’t and he’s looking over my shoulder right now saying, uuuuuuuuuuuum RUSTIC PORK RAGU??!!!
    I think I will be making this soon.

    • Isabelle says

      Ha! Obviously not one of my more veggie-friendly options, that’s for sure… hope Vince appreciates the sacrifice you’re making on his behalf! :)

  15. Kiri W. says

    Mmm, this looks fantastic – just the right thing for a cold night. I love the idea of serving this over polenta, I’d absolutely dive into a bowl :)

  16. Rochelle (@Acquired Life) says

    Seriously I now HAVE to go and find a pork roast to try this recipe on! The kitchen is freezing and I think this might just do the trick in melting the icicles off my nose :)

    • Isabelle says

      Oh yes, this sauce is full of magical nose-icicle-melting properties. Guaranteed to do the trick or your money back. :)


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