Use up leftovers to make this incredible pulled pork ragu. Serve over pasta or my favorite, creamy polenta and you’ve got an incredible Italian comfort food that will blow you away! Find leftover pulled pork recipes here.
Let start this off and tell you that this recipe is life changing. I always thought that pulled pork was an American thing. We love it smoked and in sandwiches, slathered in barbecue sauce. Well, my kids aren’t into sauces, so many times I prepare pulled pork without any sauce in it.
Mexicans have their own version of pulled pork, carnitas. And it’s pretty damn delicious, too. But I recently learned that Italians have their own version of pulled pork. A slow roasted pork shoulder in a delicious ragu sauce. And wowza – it’s so good!
Italian pork ragu
I first discovered traditional pork ragu from my friend Nancy/A Communal Table. A pork shoulder roast slowly braised in a chunky tomato sauce. There is some question of whether or not ragu is Italian or French. Many think ragu is based on the French ragout.
But all I know is that it is incredibly delicious! With all the leftover pulled pork I tend to have in my house, I wanted to recreate the pork ragu in an easier dish – one you can recreate relatively quickly for any weeknight.
I also wanted to recreate smaller portions for this meal. A 4 to 5-pound pork roast feeds a massive crowd. So by using leftover pulled pork, I can make this dish for 4 people.
The tomato base for pulled pork ragu
The base of the sauce begins with sautéd onions and celery. Once softened, garlic and herbs are added in. I used what I had in my yard: fresh rosemary, thyme and basil. Boy oh boy did my kitchen smell divine while I was cooking this baby up.
Next you stir in tomato paste and you stir it into the aromatic vegetables, lightly browning the tomato paste. Nancy says this caramelizes the sugar in the tomato paste and creates a richer and deeper flavor. It reminded me a lot of how you cook roux for gumbo. The darker the color (without burning it), the deeper the flavor.
Once the tomato paste is browned, stir in the red wine. There are some differences in opinion on whether you can use red or white wine. I chose red wine, as I like the flavor it adds to the ragu. And I had an opened bottle ready to go! I will disclose that I am not a wine connoisseur.
I do not drink or care for the taste of a glass of wine, do I do not drink it at all. But I do love the flavor it brings to cooking! For this recipe, I had some merlot on hand and used it in the ragu. Stir in the wine to release any bits on the bottom of the pot and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
Stir in the diced tomatoes and then let the sauce simmer for at least an hour. Add in the shredded pork and let it cook with the sauce for an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Now it’s time for the polenta!
Best cornmeal for polenta
Having had bland polenta before, I was never a huge fan of the stuff. It tasted rubbery and blah. Then one night I went to an Italian restaurant and enjoyed the creamiest, most heavenly polenta. I discovered that I really liked polenta and wanted to recreate it at home.
When I saw that Nancy recommended serving her pork ragu over polenta, I knew I found the ultimate comfort food.
Polenta is an Italian dish made with stone ground corn. Stone ground corn meal is more coarse than fine stuff you find at the grocery store. You want to look for corn meal that is labeled for polenta.
Fine corn meal will cook faster than stone ground and the final texture will be much smoother. So if you use regular corn meal, cut the cooking time in half.
When making polenta, the corn meal slowly absorbs the water, like how rice absorbs water as it cooks. Each bit of ground corn gets softer and fluffier as it cooks. It takes about 20-30 minutes for it to be done, then you stir in butter and grated parmesan cheese.
The butter gives your polenta a real creamy texture without making it mushy. The parmesan cheese gives the polenta a subtle salty, cheesy flavor. If you have ever tried risotto, it’s similar to this dish, where parmesan cheese is added in the end.
You can totally serve this pulled pork ragu over pasta or with a nice crunchy bread. But I’m telling you it is mind blowingly incredible when served over this creamy polenta.
Final thoughts on pulled pork ragu
So how did my cheat version of pork ragu compare with the low and slow traditional pork ragu? Well, if you’ve got leftover pulled pork and want to make this dish, the sauce is still dreamy and the final dish freaking good. I was very happy with my quick version of Italian pulled pork.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t be making Nancy’s traditional recipe with a pork shoulder. The flavor of the pork slowly cooking in the sauce is much deeper than my quick ragu. Both versions, I feel, were terrific.
And if you have a pork shoulder handy and want to try some Italian comfort food, definitely try out the traditional version of pork ragu. You won’t be disappointed.
- 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 TBS chopped fresh sage
- 1 tsp fresh thyme
- 1 tsp chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 1/2 tsp salt (divided)
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 TBS tomato paste
- 1/3 cup dry red wine
- 15 oz canned diced tomatoes
- 8 oz cooked pulled pork
- 1 cup polenta corn meal
- 4 cups water
- 4 TBS butter
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- In a medium pot over medium-high heat add olive oil.
- When oil is hot, add onions and celery and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in herbs, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper until combined.
- Reduce heat to medium and stir in tomato paste. Work it into the vegetables and herbs and cook until color begins to darken.
- Stir in wine and continue stirring and cooking for 2-3 minutes.
- Mix in diced tomatoes, then reduce heat to low and simmer ragu for at least one hour.
- Stir in pulled pork and let sauce simmer for 20 minutes.
- If sauce gets too thick, add a little water to thin out.
- In the meantime, make the polenta. If you are serving over pasta, prepare the pasta.
- Add 2 cups of water into a small pot, add 1 tsp salt and bring to boil.
- When water is boiling, slowly pour in corn meal, whisking it into the water the whole time.
- Reduce heat to medium-high and continue whisking until mixture is smooth and begins to thicken.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until corn meal is tender and polenta is thick by creamy, stirring often, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in butter and parmesan cheese.
- To serve, spread cornmeal over a shallow bowl or pasta dish and top with pork ragu.
- Garnish fresh parsley and more grated parmesan, if desired.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 497 Total Fat: 25g Saturated Fat: 12g Trans Fat: 1g Unsaturated Fat: 11g Cholesterol: 68mg Sodium: 1909mg Carbohydrates: 51g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 6g Sugar: 14g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 17g