Hot Sausage, Pepper and Onion Ragu with Rigatoni and Provolone Besciamella
- For the besciamella:
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
- 1/3 pound pancetta or speck, finely diced
- 1 1/2 pounds coarse ground pork or store-bought ground pork
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (2/3 palmful)
- 1 tablespoon paprika (a palmful)
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (half a palmful)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- Salt and pepper
- 3 medium cubanelle peppers, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
- 2 onions, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 can Italian tomatoes in tomato puree (28 ounces)
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn or shredded
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 3 cups whole milk
- Salt and black pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- 1 1/2-2 cups grated sharp provolone cheese
- 1 pound rigatoni pasta
- Flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, for garnish
Note: To make your own coarse ground pork, buy 1 1/2 pounds of pork marked shoulder or butt and cut into chunks. Add to a food processor and pulse-grind into a coarse chop.
Heat 1 tablespoon of EVOO, one turn of the pan, in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and brown for a couple of minutes, then remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
To the same pot, add another tablespoon EVOO and heat until the EVOO smokes. Add the pork and brown a couple of minutes over high heat. Reduce the heat a bit and add in the garlic, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper, paprika, cayenne, cloves, salt and pepper. Cook for 3-4 minutes more, then remove and add to the plate with the reserved pancetta.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons EVOO to the pot over medium heat. Add in the peppers and onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender. Stir in the tomato paste, cook for 1 minute, then stir in the wine. Cook for 30 seconds to burn off the alcohol, then add the stock to deglaze. Add the tomatoes and mash them up with wooden spoon or potato masher, then stir all the reserved meat back into the sauce. Simmer to thicken over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Stir in the basil.
While the sauce simmers, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil for the pasta and make the besciamella: In a saucepot over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour, cook a minute or two, then add the milk and cook until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat the broiler.
Cook the rigatoni to al dente in the salted water. Drain and toss with the thickened ragu and place in a casserole dish.
Remove the besciamella from the heat and stir in the provolone to melt. Pour the sauce over top of the casserole in a thin, even layer. Place the casserole in the oven on the center rack and brown. Top with parsley and serve.
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