This pork shoulder ragù “in bianco” (a white meat sauce, made without any tomato product) is the result of our current quarantine conditions, combining the “component cooking” approach to meal planning and the need for getting creative with leftovers, with a dash of restaurant nostalgia. Inspired by the famous malfatti (which are really maltagliati, but that’s an argument for another time) with braised suckling pig at the restaurant Maialino in New York, the star of this meat sauce is leftover roast pork—in this case, slow-roasted pork shoulder, unless of course you’re the type of person who often has extra roast suckling pig kicking around.
The leftover pork is gently braised into a tender ragù with a fennel-onion soffritto, white wine, and chicken stock (if you saved the bones from your pork shoulder, you can earn extra leftover-ingenuity no-waste points* by making a quick stock with them). This sounds simple enough, but leftover pork presents a couple of issues that need to be addressed when it comes to reheating: “warmed-over flavor” and moisture retention.
In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee notes that reheating meat can produce stale flavors caused primarily by “unsaturated fatty acids, which are damaged by oxygen and iron from myoglobin,” and due to its high proportion of unsaturated fat, pork is more susceptible to warmed-over flavor than beef or lamb. Along with tightly wrapping leftovers to minimize oxidation during storage, this problem can be further minimized by reheating meat with ingredients that contain antioxidants—hello, white wine phenols (which actually have a higher antioxidant capacity than red wine phenols). The wine in this ragù, and the pop of fresh lemon juice and zest added at the end (citrus also packs some antioxidant punch), work to stave off (and cover up) warmed-over flavors.
The moisture retention problem is a little trickier. When reheating a roast, it’s best to have the meat in as large of a piece as possible (which also helps minimize oxidation because there’s less surface area exposed to air), in order to gently warm the meat through and loosen the gelatinized collagen that has set at a lower temperature. However, that’s not always possible when dealing with roast pork shoulder leftovers, which are oftentimes already pulled apart from when the roast was first served. In that case, it’s best to either slowly crisp up the meat in some fat (as we do with our pork shoulder hash), or gently reheat the meat in a moist environment, which is what we do here. The pork is slowly reheated with stock until it shreds apart and marries with the soffritto to form a saucy ragù.
The sauce is finished with butter to give it a glossy sheen and a boost of dairy richness, which is then balanced with lemon juice and zest for bright acidity, and savory grated cheese. As with most slow-cooked meat sauces, this ragù in bianco is best paired with fresh egg dough pastas like pappardelle (the pappardelle in the photo were my first attempt at hand-rolled sfoglia verde using green ramp tops to color the dough and came out a little thicker than I’d like), tagliatelle, or maltagliati, but you can use dried penne as well. After all, this dish is about using up leftovers, not giving yourself a new big cooking project to tackle.