Once upon a time in Brooklyn, there was an Italian restaurant called Sam’s. This was old-school, red sauce Brooklyn, and Sam’s was the flickering candle of an era that was then beginning to end. Chianti bottles on every table, salamis hanging from the ceiling, broken English immigrants eating family meal in a dim back room. Malcolm lived in this neighborhood, in a small apartment with exposed brick and a nook just big enough for a single bed. He and I were trying to decide if we were worth it. So I spent more time in my own rickety apartment, in Catholic Williamsburg, an arms-length from the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. After work I would take the G train to Cobble Hill to have dinner and drinks with him at Joya or Bar Tabac or the Banania Cafe, or order Chinese from Peking II, or grab a pizza from Sal’s. One night in a snowstorm, we bought a bottle of wine from the liquor store where you passed money through a window in bullet-proof glass, handed over the change to Tom, a lanky homeless man who hung out in front of the deli on the corner, and walked downstairs into Sam’s. It was too warm, and our cheeks flushed as we ate garlic bread and fried calamari, green salad and a big bowl of spicy rigatoni with meat sauce. We drank wine and leaned in close across the red and white checkered cloth. Eventually, we went home together.
This is a simmer all day sauce, a Sunday sauce, a snow day sauce. Use rigatoni or penne with this rich and textured gravy. Drink wine and wait out the storm.
Calabrese-Style Rigatoni with Spicy Pork Ragu
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 Italian sausage links, sweet and hot, removed from casing
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, mined
- 2 tsp oregano leaves, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup basil, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 lb rigatoni
- 1 cup Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano cheese, grated
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Brown sausage, breaking up meat with a spoon, about 4 minutes. Add ground pork to the pot, season with salt and pepper, and cook until no longer pink. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork to a plate.
Increase the heat to medium-high and cook the vegetables, seasoned with salt and pepper, until softened, 8-10 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and 1 cup of water. Scrape up brown bits with a wooden spoon and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, 5 minutes.
Return pork to the pot, along with tomatoes, which will dissolve, or you can break them up with a spoon, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, partially cover and simmer on low, approximately 4 hours.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Toss pasta with sauce and cheese.