This ragù, in the tradition of Potenza (the capital of Basilicata), is a versatile sauce, equally delicious with cooked grains such as farro, wheat berries or barley, or as a dressing for almost any pasta you choose. This recipe gives a combination I particularly love, with cooked farro stirred into the pot of ragù just before serving. The nuttiness of the grain and the earthiness of the pork sauce are flavors that remind me of the bountiful Sunday and holiday dinners that are traditional in the lower part of the peninsula. And though it is a dish steeped in old traditions, it is healthful and economical, and will certainly shine on today’s table for any occasion.
Makes about 4 cups, serving 6 with farro
For the ragù
2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. chopped garlic (about cloves)
1/2 tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups (one 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
For the farro and serving
1 pound farro
1 fresh bay leaf
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated pecorino (or half pecorino and half Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus more for passing
Recommended equipment: A heavy saucepan, such as an enameled cast-iron French oven, 5-quart capacity, with a cover; a heavy 3- or 4-quart saucepan.
For the ragù: Trim the fat from the exterior of the pork. Cut it into bite-sized morsels, about 3/4-inch cubes, trimming more fat and bits of cartilage as you divide the meat. Pat the pieces dry with paper towels.
Pour the olive oil into the big pan, set it over medium heat and toss in the pork. Spread the pieces in the pan and season with the salt. Cook the pork slowly for 15 minutes or so, turning and moving the pieces occasionally as the meat releases its juices and they cook away.
When the pan is dry and the pork starts to sizzle and crackle, clear a hot spot on the bottom and drop in the chopped garlic and peperoncino. Stir and toast them for a minute or so in the hot spot until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling, then stir and toss with the meat cubes. Raise the heat a bit, pour in the white wine, stir and bring to a boil. Let the wine bubble until it is nearly evaporated and the pork is sizzling again. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and a cup of water that has been sloshed around to rinse out the tomato can, grate on the fresh nutmeg and stir.
Cover the pan and heat the tomatoes to a boil, then adjust the heat to maintain a steady, gentle perking. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the pork is tender all the way through and falls apart under gentle pressure, and the sauce has thickened. If the liquid is still thin toward the end of the cooking time, set the cover ajar and raise the heat a bit to reduce it rapidly.
Meanwhile, prepare the farro, first rinsing it well and draining it in a sieve. Put it in the smaller saucepan with 6 cups cold water, the bay leaf, salt and olive oil. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then set the cover ajar and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grains are cooked through but still al dente. Turn off the heat, pour off excess liquid and keep the farro warm until the ragù is done.
To finish the dish: Have the ragù simmering and stir in the farro thoroughly. Cook together for a minute, so the grain is very hot. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese on top and stir in. Spoon the dressed farro into warm bowls, and serve immediately with more grated cheese at the table.