Neapolitan ragu

  • Preparation Time55 mins
  • Cooking Time150 mins
  • Serves8
  • DifficultyMedium
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 ultimate meatballs, recipe follows
2 tbsp coarser salt, plus more for seasoning
1 tbsp black peppercorns, plus freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 rack 8 pork spare ribs, cut into 2 to 3-rib pieces
1 (910g) boneless pork shoulder, cut into 2 pieces (so it cooks at the same time as the ribs/meatballs)
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh oregano
4 medium carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 cups dry red wine
3 (790g) cans tomatoes (recommended: San Marzano)
2 tbsp tomato puree
910g spaghetti, cooked al dente in salted water

For the topping

150g roughly chopped sultanas
100g toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped
30g roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the ultimate meatballs

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small to medium onion, chopped
2 small garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
3 thick slices firm white bread, crust removed, cut into cubes
190ml cup milk
680g beef mince
680g pork mince
1 large egg
30g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas 4.

1) Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and gently brown the meatballs. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, grind the salt, black peppercorns and fennel seeds with some olive oil into a grainy paste. Rub the ribs and shoulder with the mixture.

2) Remove the meatballs with a slotted spoon and set aside on a kitchen paper-lined plate to drain. In the same pot, brown the shoulder pieces and ribs, in batches. Alternately to save time, roast the ribs in a preheated 260 degrees C/Gas 10 oven for 10 to 15 minutes whilst you brown the shoulder pieces in the pot.

3) Remove the shoulder pieces and ribs to the meatball plate and let rest.

4) Add a little more olive oil to the pot and add the thyme, oregano, carrots, onion and celery. Stir it around and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Cook the vegetables until they are slightly softened and have some nice colour. Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste and mix well, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom.

5) Nestle the pork shoulder pieces back into the middle of the pot then arrange the ribs around the sauce. Finish by placing the meatballs in the gaps (some of the pieces will be sticking out from the sauce but that's perfectly fine as it will roast and caramelise).

6) Use a spoon to baste everything well, cover, then put the pot into the oven and roast until the pork is tender and the meat is just falling off the rib bones, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

7) Combine the chopped sultanas, toasted pine nuts and parsley in a small bowl.

8) Use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs and ribs to a large platter. Remove the pork shoulder pieces from the pot and allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing into bite-size pieces and adding them to the platter. Puree the sauce in a food processor then add it back to the pot and set over medium heat. Reduce the sauce until it is rich and thick, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

9) When the spaghetti is cooked, drain and add to a medium bowl. Spoon a little sauce over the spaghetti and the remaining sauce over the platter of meat. Garnish the meat platter with the sultana mixture and serve.

For the ultimate meatballs:

1) Heat 3 tablespoons oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and parsley and cook until the vegetables are soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture cool.

2) Add the bread to a medium bowl and pour in the milk. Let the bread soak while the onions are cooling. Combine the meats in a large bowl.

3) Add the egg and cheese and season generously with salt and pepper. Use your hands to squeeze the excess milk out of the bread and add it to the bowl along with the cooled onion mixture. Gently combine all the ingredients with your hands until just mixed together. Don't overwork the mixture or the meatballs will be tough.

4) Divide the mixture into 8 equal pieces and shape them into 8 nice-looking meatballs. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

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