As kids growing up, my sisters and mom would visit my grandparents every other weekend. Sometimes we’d meet half way between our home and theirs. Sitting at the same brown leather booth at Denny’s in Tracy, CA; we’d eat the same pancakes with whipped butter and maple syrup from small plastic pouring cups and color the back of the menus with crayons. Back when Tracy didn’t have suburbs and large developments of homes, but just a Denny’s and a gas station. As the years, health issues and cancer surgeries passed, we starting making the longer drive to San Jose, where my grandparents lived, more frequently.
Weekends spent in San Jose guaranteed bacon, eggs, orange juice and cinnamon toast every morning with my grandmother (It was her favorite meal). Carrots were served as a midday snack. And at least one night each visit we would have Papa’s pasta.
Papa grew up with seven brothers and sisters on a farm in Oklahoma before making his way to California. He’s life speaks to the American dream and hard work (a story for another time). And his pasta sauce speaks to his patience and love of tomatoes. Truth is, the longer you wait the better this recipe tastes.
I spent years trying to recreate his sauce. And although the recipe below will never compare to the years my sisters and I ate pasta out of green, red and white ceramic bowls that had “Pasta” scripted on the bottom of them. It’s the closest I’ve come to bringing my Papa back.
1 pound ground pork
1.25 lbs of vine-red tomatoes
1 yellow onion, diced thin
4 large garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons of salt
4 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon crushed bay leaves
1 tablespoon crushed anise
1 pound of Orecchiette pasta
¾ cup of Parmesan cheese
Using a small knife, slice a small X at the bottom of tomatoes. In a separate bowl, prepare an ice water bath. Fill medium pot with water and bring to boil. Place tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds, remove tomatoes and place in ice water bath. Once cooled, peel skins from the tomatoes.
In small bowl, mix bay leaves, oregano, anise and salt.
In large sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for 5 mins. Add onions and sauté for 7-10 minutes, until onions are semi-translucent. Add dry white wine and continue cooking 5-7 minutes, until onions completely clear. Add tomatoes and chicken broth, and bring to a gentle boil. Add ½ of all seasoning to pan, reduce heat and cover to simmer.
In a separate skillet, coat lightly with olive oil and bring to heat over medium. Add pork and remaining seasoning, mix until fully incorporated and cook for 5-7 minutes, using a wooden spoon to break apart the pork into small pieces. Add pork to the large sauce pan. Incorporate all ingredients, cover, and allow to simmer and reduce for 4-6 hours. You can prepare pork ragù in advance and reheat when ready to make pasta (I like to let it sit overnight).
In large pot, cook Orecchiette pasta in salted water for 8 minutes. Add 1 cup of pasta water to pot with pork ragù. Drain Orecchiette pasta and add to pork ragù. Continuing cooking pasta with ragù for 8-10 minutes. Add ½ cup of parmesan cheese and mix until melted. Serve.