White Pork Ragu with Fennel, Beans and Meyer Lemon

SERVES: 6-8

This ragu uses no tomato produce whatsoever, which yields a lighter, brighter, more acidic and fragrant ragu, perfect for transitional spring days. The fennel-lemon gremolata that tops it is not optional folks, it takes it to a whole new dimension!!! If you can, get your hands on some Meyer lemons...they are so very special.

Active Time: 45 mins

Total Time: 3 hrs 30 mins

Screenshot 2024-04-11 at 4.41.43 PM

Produce

  • 2 fennel bulbs, with their fronds attached (12.5 oz)
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 3 celery stalks (plus their leaves) (1 lb 3 oz)
  • 10 garlic cloves
  • 3 Meyer or regular lemons
  • 4 large sprigs tarragon

Pantry

  • kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound fresh pappardelle or other long pasta
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 15-ounce can butter beans

Dairy

  • 2 ounces grated parmesan, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup creme fraiche, for serving

Protein

  • 4 lbs boneless pork shoulder

1. Chop some stuff:

  • Pick the fronds of 2 fennel bulbs; set them aside for later.
  • Finely chop the two large fennel bulbs, 1 yellow onion and 3 celery stalks (reserving any celery leaves that are attached for serving.)
  • Firmly smash and peel 10 garlic cloves. Set 2 of the cloves aside for much later on, and then move all the remaining veg aside to a large bowl to make some space on your cutting board.
  • Peel the zest of 2 lemons with a veg peeler into long strips.
  • Cut 4 lb boneless pork shoulder into 6 large chunks (2-3” wide each). Season the pork all over with salt (very generously please!!!)

2. Start sauteing:

  • Preheat the oven to 325.
  • Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Once smoking hot, add the pork and cook until brown on 2 sides only, about 12-14 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
  • Add the celery, chopped fennel, onions, and garlic, a biggggg pinch of salt, 1½ teaspoons red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons fennel seed, the strips of lemon zest, 1 large cinnamon stick, and 2 big sprigs of tarragon (leaves still attached). Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are very soft and cooked down, 15-18 minutes.
  • Stir in 1 ¼ cups dry white wine, and cook 2-3 minutes to reduce and cook off some of the alcohol. Stir in 2 cups chicken stock or water, and ¼ cup lemon juice (from the two lemons you zested) and bring the liquid to a simmer. Once it simmers, nestle the pork shoulder pieces back into the pot (unseared sides up–these will get some color as it roasts). Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven to cook for 2 hours, basting the pork once or twice with some of its juices as it cooks, and adding a half cup of water as needed to keep it loose and brothy.
  • After two hours, remove from the oven. Crack open and drain 1 can of butter beans, rinse briefly, and then add the beans to the pot of pork, submerging in the juices. Cover again, and return to the oven to braise 30-45 minutes longer, until the pork is fork tender and shreds apart easily. Use two forks to gently shred the pork into smaller pieces. It doesn’t need to be totally shredded but they should be about the size you’d want to pick up in a twirl of pasta on your fork.

3. Make the fennel-lemon gremolata and cook the pasta:

  • A half an hour or so before you are ready to serve, fill a large pot with heavily salted water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Remove the zest of the third lemon in large strips with a veg peeler. Finely chop the zest and the reserved fennel fronds. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves; add all to a small bowl, and use your fingers to combine.
  • Add 1 pound of pasta to the water and stir once. Cook according to package directions for al dente. Drain, and then add the pasta to the pot of pork. Cook over medium, gently tossing with tongs to coat, and adding 2 ounces of grated parm, a few handfuls at a time.
  • Divide the pasta and ragu among serving bowls. Squeeze some lemon juice over each bowl, and sprinkle generously with gremolata. Dollop some creme fraiche on each and top with more parm.

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