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The Goal Is Dinner

January 21, 1998|RUSS PARSONS

In a former life, I wrote about sports. As confessions go, this is hardly tabloid material, but it does go a long way in explaining why it has been XVII years since I sat down and watched the Super Bowl straight through.

A decade of work watching overbearing adolescents push each other around successfully killed whatever romance might have lingered between me and football.

Now, I tune in every once in a while, and though I am disoriented by references to things like Phoenix Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, a flash of Barry Sanders running, of Brett Favre engineering a drive or of Bill Cowher coaching is enough to fan a momentary flame of excitement.

It quickly passes. Either the players or the commentators start acting like this is Bosnia or the Asian economy or real life, and that's my cue to walk away.

Almost invariably, given my new choice of career, I head to the kitchen, where I do what real men do on Sunday afternoons: cook dinner.

Sunday cooking is big cooking in our house. Not because we have a crowd for dinner (Saturday's the night for that, when you have the next day to recover), but because I try to cook enough so that we have leftovers to carry us through at least one meal during the week.

Sometimes that means a roast chicken, or a big pot of soup or stew. Pinto beans are a favorite; refried beans are one of the few instances when the leftover is not only as good as but also better than the original.

Our big food favorite this winter, though, has been ragu Napoletana. I first came across this recipe last year, when I was translating and testing an Italian recipe for timpano--a baked, stuffed pastry drum like the one shown in the movie "Big Night."

At the time, I decided that though I would probably never make another timpano, the ragu was really special. It's a deeply delicious, almost alchemical mixture that begins with pancetta, garlic, onions and parsley ground and cooked together. Then you add a several-pound chunk of pork butt and cook it for an hour. Then red wine and cook it for an hour. Then tomato paste and then crushed tomatoes and . . . you get the picture.

Finally, after six hours, you toss out the pork butt and add Italian sausage. Of course, the roast isn't actually discarded; only a French chef would cook that much meat and throw it away. Instead, it is carefully set aside and kept warm to be served as a second course, after you've served the gravy with pasta.

The first time I made it this winter, there was not only enough meat to serve as a very generous secondo (accompanied by long spears of broccoli rabe blanched and sauteed with lots of garlic), but enough left over to be shredded, chopped and used as part of a ravioli filling for yet another meal. Three, three, three dishes in one!

During the holidays, I fixed a double recipe and used the sauce for pasta at a dinner for 25. (OK, since you begged, it was to celebrate my friend Gloria Stuart's Golden Globe nomination for her role as Old Rose in the movie "Titanic." Who knows what we'll do when she wins an Academy Award!)

Even after all that, there was sauce left over for another big dinner at home, plus meat for enough ravioli to feed the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos.

It's not like either team has anything better to do this Sunday, is it?


It's hard to believe the depth of flavor in this sauce. After six hours of cooking, it tastes of neither tomatoes nor meat but of something separate entirely. For a real treat, serve this with fresh pasta.

1/4 pound pancetta, cubed

4 onions, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 bunch parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, pepper

1 (4- to 5-pound) pork butt roast, trimmed of any bones and tied in 1 piece

3 cups hearty red wine

2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste

2 (16-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 pound Italian sausage, crumbled

6 pounds fresh or dried pasta

1/4 cup butter

Grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Grind together pancetta, onions, garlic and parsley in meat grinder or food processor. Warm olive oil over low heat and add ground mixture. Cook, stirring, until mixture softens and becomes fragrant, about 20 minutes.

Liberally salt and pepper pork and add to pan with ground mixture. Cover and cook, turning once, until ground mixture just begins to color (do not scorch), about 1 hour.

Add wine, cover and cook until wine reduces, about 1 hour. Stir in tomato paste, 2 to 3 tablespoons at a time, cooking between additions, until sauce is smooth. Cover and cook until sauce is dark and savory, about 1 hour. Add tomatoes and cook until pork is falling-apart tender, about 1 more hour.

Remove pork and reserve for another use. Add sausage and cook 1 more hour.

Just before serving, cook pasta in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes for fresh pasta and 10 minutes for dried pasta or according to package instructions. Drain and add to large mixing bowl with butter and 10 cups pasta sauce. Toss well to combine, adding more sauce if necessary just to coat pasta.

Serve in individual bowls, topped with another 1/4 cup of sauce and grating of cheese.

25 servings, plus leftover pork. Each serving without pork:

568 calories; 370 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 83 grams carbohydrates; 21 grams protein; 0.44 gram fiber.

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