For starters, sugo is a thick Italian sauce made with meat and vegetables. It’s actually sort of similar to a Spanish sofrito, but with meat blended into the vegetables. Food & Wine recommended braising the pork for two hours, but like I’ve said before, time is tight. I can’t very well braise for two hours at night, but I can turn on a CrockPot* before I leave for work.
*sorry, I meant slow cooker. I’m clearly not being paid by the CrockPot people.
In addition to a slow cooker, here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 pork shoulder or loin
- 1 medium-sized onion, halved and quartered
- 1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and ends trimmed
- 3 stalks celery, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 2 bell peppers (I used green because they’re a whole dollar cheaper than red or yellow), but into ½ inch pieces
- 1 ½ cups carrots, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
- 1 fistful spinach, stems trimmed
- 1 large can (umm, 16 ounces?) crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- 4 leaves basil
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 pinches dried oregano (I don’t use enough of it to buy fresh)
- kosher salt
- black pepper
- 1/4 cup vegetable stock
- 2 1/2 cups red wine (I used Cabernet, I find pinot noir, malbec, and syrah too berry-like for this)
- olive oil
- 2-3 cups dried mostaccioli pasta (I guess it's ziti for non-St. Louisans)
- grated Parmesan cheese
By the way, you don't need to cut anything precisely. You're going to smash it into a mess later on, so don't bother with bite-sized pieces or with getting everything even.
After cutting the above-named vegetables, place everything into Ziploc bags and stick them on the same refrigerator shelf for easy access in the morning. I cannot be trusted to select from different shelves before I’ve finished Pot 1 of coffee.
The next morning, turn the slow cooker on low and pour a shallow pool of olive oil in the bottom. Season the pork with salt and pepper and throw it in.
Cover the pork with last night’s vegetables, the thyme, oregano, and 2 leaves of basil.
Then pour in half of the tomatoes and keep the other half in a container for later.
Lastly, pour in the vegetable stock and red wine.
*Those purplish things in the picture are cubes of frozen demiglace from a previous recipe. More on that later.
Cover the slow cooker and go to work.
(Work sucks, doesn’t it?)
Two hours of braising in the oven is about the same as 8 hours of low slow cooker time, so turn off the slow cooker as soon as you get home. I took the lid off because it smelled amazing and nothing is sexier than smelling food when you’re changing out of your work clothes.
Once you’ve changed (and possibly cracked open a happy-hour-at-home beverage), use a slotted spoon to get the vegetables and pork into a bowl. Tearing the pork as you go is fine, because you’ll be blending it anyway.
*** Food & Wine also recommended a food processor to fully blend the meat and veg, but I don’t have one. I suppose I could request one as a gift, but my mom rolls her eyes when I request Season 2 of No Reservations on DVD. Guess how successful the food processor will be. I originally planned to use my blender, but it’s difficult to wash and I’m sort of in love with my potato masher. I think it’s an Oxo, but I bought it at Target and it’s freaking amazing. ***
If you decide to use a potato masher like I did, start wailing on the vegetables and pork. Actually, be careful. They’ve absorbed a lot of liquid and could squirt you in the eye if you’re overzealous.
But now you have sugo....
Once you’re done mashing, cover the bowl with some plastic and set it aside. Put some salted water on to boil for the pasta and preheat your oven to 400.
***While you’re waiting for the water to boil, spoon the liquid left in the slow cooker into some empty ice cube trays. This is an excellent way to ensure that you’ll always have some kind of broth, demiglace, or stock on hand. (You may want to store the trays in a freezer bag once the liquid is solid; there’s no need for fatty stuff rattling around in the freezer.)***
Food & Wine's recipe called for orechiette, but this is St. Louis and we rock it mostaccioli-style. Mispronounced, of course. Anyway, cook your pasta until it’s just firm. Anything further will result in mush, and mush doesn’t taste good no matter how hard you bake it. Drain.
Combine the sugo, pasta, spinach, and the remaining basil leaves and pour into a casserole dish. Pour the remainder of the crushed tomatoes on top.
Place casserole dish in oven and leave it there for about 35 minutes. After then, pull it out and top with grated Parmesan. Put it back in the oven for about 7 minutes, turning the broiler on for the last 1 or 2.
I like to let the casserole dish to sit for at least 5 minutes after I take it out of the oven. It’s less likely to hemorrhage liquid and, you know, scald my tongue. Plus all that flavorful porky goodness has a chance to marry with sharp, tangy Parmesan and sweet tomatoes.