Classic ragu has an easy twist: Dried figs or fig jam and plenty of fresh ginger are simmered with sweet Italian pork sausage removed from its casing. The dish should be a little bit spicy (don’t hold back on black pepper), with just a touch of fig sweetness. It’s great on pasta, but also on polenta or crostini, inside a crepe, or even in a risotto, orzotto (risotto made using barley instead of rice), or a farrotto (using whole berry farro), and sprinkled with a generous snowfall of grated hard cheese. The sweetness of the figs deepens the flavors of the pork, and the ginger adds a warming quality.
|2||tablespoons olive oil|
|1||onion, coarsely chopped|
|1||carrot, coarsely chopped|
|1||rib celery, coarsely chopped|
|1||pound sweet Italian pork|
sausage, casing removed, meat crumbled
|¼||cup dried figs, finely chopped, or ¼ cup fig jam|
|1||piece (1 inch) fresh ginger (skin scraped off), grated, or more to taste|
|⅛||teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste|
|⅛||teaspoon hot or sweet|
paprika, or more to taste
|1||piece (about 1 inch) Parmigiano Reggiano rind, or rind from grana padano (optional)|
|Salt and black pepper, to taste|
|1||cup water, broth, or wine (white or red), or more if needed|
|1||pound penne rigate or|
|½||cup pasta cooking water|
|½||cup grated Parmigiano|
Reggiano or other hard cheese (for sprinkling)
|2||tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)|
1. In a large flameproof casserole over medium-low heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes, or until they soften.
2. Stir in the crumbled sausage and the dried figs or fig preserve, ginger, red pepper, paprika, cheese rind, if using, and black pepper.
3. Add enough water, broth, or wine to almost cover the mixture. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer gently for 40 minutes. Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and black pepper, if you like. Discard the cheese rind.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it is tender but still has some bite. Dip a heatproof measuring cup into the pot and remove ½ cup pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta; do not rinse it.
5. Return the pasta to its cooking pot. Stir in the ragu, ¼ cup of the pasta water, and 2 tablespoons of the grated cheese. Over low heat, stir the mixture for 2 minutes. If it seems too thick, add more pasta cooking water. Taste for seasoning and add salt and more black pepper, if you like. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with extra grated cheese. Caleb Barber