Make-ahead, super tender and succulent pork in a thick, rich Italian tomato sauce.
This one's been in "the cooker" for a while. You might be wonder what "the cooker" is. Well, it's somewhere between the deep, dark, culinary recesses of my brain and my little Carolina kitchen.
About a month ago, I had the idea to come up with a recipe for slow roasted Italian pork. I wanted it to be a super simple, throw-it-all-in-the-slow-cooker-and-forget-it recipe. At the same time I wanted it to be crazy-delicious. I love to come up with recipes like that to make your life easy and, of course, delicious.
I tried the slow cooker technique but wasn't happy with the results. Several renditions later, with good but not great results, I realized the super easy technique was just not going to fly. On top of the flavor not being blow-you-away-delicious, the color of the finished sauce wasn't the deep, rich red I was looking for. When pork shoulder is cooked without browning, a lot of the juices are released into the sauce giving it a somewhat murky color.
So went back to the drawing board (or "the cooker"). I browned the meat on the stovetop with much better results. The juices are sealed in as the meat sears so the sauce stays a beautiful red color. The added flavor from browning the pork was much closer to what I was hoping for. A few more trials, to get the herbs, spices and tomatoes just right and it's ready. For you! And for me.
Certain recipes get designated as "heirloom recipes" here at The Café.
Although I cook a lot, I honestly don't repeat very many recipes. Why? Well, it's not because I don't like them. It's just that I'm always onto something new and looking forward to testing and trying "the next thing" that's "in the cooker". But certain recipes get designated as "heirloom recipes" here at The Café. They're the kind that I know I'll make again and again. The no-fail, super-delicious, never-out of-season, crowd pleasers that always receive rave reviews. This Slow Roasted Italian Pork is definitely one of those "heirloom" recipes!
An easier way to buy pork shoulder
One final note on this Italian Slow Roasted Pork. As you can imagine, I went through quite a bit of pork with all the trial batches of this recipe. Somewhere along the way, I learned something really interesting. I discovered that, packages of pork labeled "country style ribs" are actually pork shoulder (usually) that's been trimmed and cut into thick slices. I loved discovering this because honestly, I'm a little intimidated by a 6-8 pound pork shoulder that's covered with fat.
Cutting and trimming it is a bit of a pain and not one of my favorite things to do. The country style ribs however, have already been trimmed a bit and are much easier to work with. A win-win! Just be sure to check with your butcher to make sure the ribs are pork shoulder and not pork loin (which won't work well for this recipe as loin is not as suitable to slow cooking.) At Sam's Club and Costco, the ribs are label "Pork Shoulder Boneless Country Ribs".
Although this recipe's not as super simple as I had originally intended, it's not hard at all. Once the pork is browned and chopped onions are sautéed, most of the other ingredients are just thrown in the pot and brought to a simmer. The pot's then plopped in the oven where magic occurs over the next four hours. The pork becomes melt-in-your-mouth-tender and the sauce, super delicious with lots of authentic Italian flavor.
After the long slow roast in the oven, the pork is removed and set aside to cool. I like to simmer the sauce just bit longer on the stovetop while the pork cools. By this time, the neighbors will be lined up at your doorstep, wondering if a fabulous Italian trattoria has moved into the neighborhood as the delicious aroma wafts from your house.
Slow cook in the oven instead of the slow cooker.
Because of the initial browning and the final simmering, I don't recommend a slow cooker for this recipe. You end up with too many extra pots. Plus, the slow roast in the oven not only tenderizes the pork but also helps thicken the sauce as the cover is removed during the last hour of cooking.
You'll find that this recipe makes a lot so it's perfect for feeding a crowd. It also freezes well so that makes it wonderful for easy weeknight meals. There are lots of ways to use this Italian Slow Roasted Pork too. It makes a fabulous sandwich, served with melted mozzarella on Italian bread (similar to a meatball sandwich). It's also delicious served over pasta or polenta. You can leave the pork in fairly large pieces or shred it fine and use it as a meat layer in lasagna or as a topping for pizza.
Our favorite way to use it? Italian Slow Roasted Pork with Gnocchi. Packaged gnocchi (which you can purchase at most larger grocery stores) is combined with the delicious pork in a baking dish and the whole thing is topped with fresh mozzarella. Give it a short stint in the oven till it's bubbly and the cheese is creamy and melted. A scatter of fresh basil finishes it off and the result is a fabulous meal, fit for royalty. Or your most fancy dancy company. Or, better yet, your wonderful family. Details on recipe coming up on next post!
This would be a wonderful make-ahead meal for the holidays. So, go ahead, make a list of the ingredients you'll need and put together a batch of this Slow Roasted Italian Pork. I think you'll be thrilled with the results and it very well might become an "heirloom" recipe at your house too!
Lots of people ask what kind of cookware, small appliances, cutlery, etc. I use in the kitchen. Here's what I used to make this recipe.
- 6 pounds pork shoulder or boneless country style ribs*
- 1 tablespoon garlic salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 1 large onion finely diced
- 4 medium cloves garlic minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 28 ounce San Marzano tomatoes***
- 1 6- ounce can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 tablepoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 14 ½- ounce can diced tomatoes**** well-drained
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Preheat oven to 300˚F. Combine garlic salt and pepper in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Set aside.
On a large cutting board, cut pork into 4-5-inch pieces and trim as much of the visible fat as possible. It’s fine if some of the pieces end up a bit smaller. You definitely won’t be able to remove all of the fat and you don’t want to at this point. (I started with 6 pounds of pork shoulder ribs and ended up trimming a little over a pound of fat.) Later you’ll be able to remove more of it. Lay pork pieces out on the cutting board* and sprinkle with half of the garlic salt mixture. Flip pieces to opposite side and sprinkle with remaining seasoning.
In a large Dutch oven or large heavy duty soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add enough of the pork to cover the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium and brown pork on both sides (a tongs work great for this) then remove to a large bowl and repeat with the rest of the pork. Depending on the size of the pot, you may need to do this in 2-3 batches. Add about a teaspoon of olive oil to the pot before adding another batch of pork.
When all the pork is browned and removed from pot, reduce heat to medium low and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to pot. (Don’t wash the pot. The “frond” or brown stuff on the bottom of the pot, will add lots of delicious flavor to the sauce.) Add the chopped onions and cook for about 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally. After a couple minutes of cooking, the frond (or brown stuff) on the bottom of the pot, will begin to release into the onions. When onions are soft and translucent and most of the frond has been release, add the garlic. Cook for one more minute, then return the pork to the pot.
Pour the San Marzano tomatoes into the bowl which held the pork and break tomatoes apart with your fingers. Add tomatoes tomato paste, dried oregano, dried basil and the salt to the pot with the pork/onions. Stir well and bring to a simmer.
Cover pot and place in preheated oven. Roast for 3 hours covered, then remove cover, add well-drained diced tomatoes and roast for another hour, uncovered. Stir halfway through the last hour.
With a slotted spoon, remove pork from sauce to a clean bowl and allow to cool about 20 minutes. Add chopped, fresh basil to sauce in pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes while pork is cooling. (This will thicken the sauce a bit more.)
With two forks or your fingers, shred pork into large pieces. I just break the pieces apart a bit and leave the smaller ones intact. Return pork to pot and stir gently to combine. Serve or allow to cool slightly, then transfer to airtight storage containers. Pork can be frozen for several months. To use, remove from freezer and allow to thaw completely, then warm in the microwave or gently on the stovetop. Don’t stir the pork a lot or the nice large pieces will fall apart. Serve over pasta or polenta, in sandwiches, in lasagna, a topping for pizza, in manicotti... ENJOY!
Makes 3 ½-4 quarts.
*Pork shoulder usually comes as a large piece of meat. It’s the shoulder of the pig. It can be cumbersome and difficult to work with, not only because of the size, but also because it’s very fatty. “Country style pork ribs” are often pork shoulder that’s been trimmed and cut into thick slices. I love this because some of the fat has already been removed and the pieces are much easier to handle. You just have to be careful though as sometimes pork loin is used for country style pork ribs. It will usually say on the package but if it doesn’t, just check with your butcher. He will know whether it’s loin or shoulder. Loin is not as fatty but won’t produce as tender, melt in your mouth results either. You want the shoulder.
If you can’t find country style pork ribs, you could ask your butcher to slice a pork shoulder for you or you can do it yourself.
If you can’t find a boneless shoulder, or boneless country style ribs, allow a pound and half extra to compensate for the bones.
**If you don’t have a large cutting board, just lay a large piece of plastic wrap out on a work surface and lay pork on plastic wrap.
*** San Marzano tomatoes can be found in most larger grocery stores. They are Italian plum tomatoes grown in the rich volcanic soil at the base of Mount Vesuvius near the small Italian town of San Marzano. They are wonderful with a sweet flavor, low acidity, firm pulp, deep red color and a low seed count. Try to find them if you can. They more expensive but worth it! If you can’t find them, try to use canned plum tomatoes, if possible.
**** For the diced tomatoes in this recipe, I like to use rire-roasted diced tomatoes. Most major tomato canning companies produce fire-roasted tomatoes these days. Look for them along side the regular diced tomatoes. They have a depth of color and flavor that’s delicious. If you can’t find them, regular diced tomatoes will work.