Instant Dinner Party

Spoiler alert: If you come over to our house for dinner any time between now and the first day of spring, there’s about a 90% chance we’re going to cook this for you. The pork shoulder ragu you see above is our new obsession. It’s the ideal dish for Sunday dinner, or even better, an informal winter dinner party: It’s warm, it’s hearty, it smells insanely good, it goes well with red wine, and my God, is it tasty. But none of those are the main reason we’re so obsessed with this right now — no, the best part of this one is that, once the guests arrive, your work is already done. All the prep — what little of it there was — is four hours ago, a distant memory. Which is increasingly the way we like it. It seems like the older we get, and the more cooking we do, the simpler we want our entertaining to be. For sure, there was a day when we would have spent the afternoon, Martha-style, frantically scooping out little cucumber cups with a mellon-baller and filling them with creme fraiche and topping them with smoked salmon and dainty sprigs of dill, when we would have been stirring (and stirring) risotto and mandolining three different kinds of potatoes and being distracted, instead of hanging out with our guests. But then kids happened, and our tastes changed, and those days are gone. These days, I love nothing more than a one-pot meal — I am a braising machine! — and this really basic pork ragu over pasta is where our heads are at right now. It’s an instant party: you just take it out of the oven, shred the pork, boil some pasta, and you’re done. If the kids don’t like pork, they can eat the pasta; if they do like pork, then I love them, and there’s still plenty for everybody. Though I should add that, as good as this is on a cold winter night, it’s even better for lunch the next day. If it weren’t for a little thing known as coronary heart disease, I would eat this every day for the rest of my life. –Andy

Pork Shoulder Ragu
Because this is pork, it goes well with a salad that has a little sweetness to help cut the porkiness. (That’s Jenny’s word.) Greens with pear, blue cheese, and pine nuts? Greens with pistachios and pomegranates? Either would be good with our standard vinaigrette

Also, this serves about six normal-size people. If you are cooking for more than that, cook another pound of pasta, up the meat to 3 pounds, and add few more tomatoes, and another 1/2 cup of red wine. Like the other braised pork recipe we ran recently, it’s nearly impossible to get wrong, so don’t get too hung up on the exactness of measurements. But if you use 3 pounds of pork and keep the liquid at a third of the way up the meat, that will be enough to feed four parents and four kids. With leftovers.

2 to 2 1/2-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small pat butter
1 large can whole tomatoes, with juice
1 cup red wine
5 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs fresh oregano
Small handful of fennel seeds
1 tablespoon hot sauce, for smokiness (I used Trader Joe’s Hot Chili Sauce)
Pappardelle
Freshly grated Parmesean

Preheat oven to 325°F. Liberally salt and pepper the pork roast. Add olive oil and butter to large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high until butter melts, but does not burn. Add pork roast to pan and brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes in all.

Add the onion and garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, wine, thyme, oregano, fennel, and hot sauce and bring to a boil. Cover, and put in oven. Braise for 3-4 hours, turning every hour or so. Add more liquid (water, wine, or tomato sauce) if needed. (The liquid should come to about 1/3 of the way up the pork.) Meat is done when it’s practically falling apart. Put on a cutting board and pull it apart with two forks, then add back to pot and stir. Cook 1 to 2 pounds pasta according to package directions. When it’s is ready, put into individual bowls and top with ragu and lots of Parm.

Jenny will have me remind you that there are many more recipes where this one came from in Dinner: A Love Story.

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89 Comments

Sweet Tim

Hi, great site for foodies you have here! This recipe featured here reminds me of the Chinese stirfry pork with noodle. Never quite got to try it with pasta though. Perhaps now I should :)

Thanks for the share!

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Tara

Sounds fabulous! And I had the same thought as Nancy above. It does sound like a great slow-cooker recipe. Any other readers have a clever conversion for how to shift this from the stove top to the crock pot? Would love to get this started on a Saturday morning and then when we get home from basketball, fencing, dance and a birthday party we could have a quick meal all but ready. I have a great fondness for obedient appliances that can work without supervision. But on the stovetop or in the crock pot, I’m trying this soon. Thanks!

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Taylor

This looks great! @Nancy and Tara: We often make pulled pork in the crock pot, using pork shoulder like this recipe does. It tends to take 6-8 hours on low. Thanks, Jenny & Andy!

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Taylor

Thanks for another great recipe, Jenny & Andy! @Nancy and Tara: We make pulled pork in the crockpot, using 3-4 lb pork shoulder, and it takes 6-8 hours on low. I would think this would be similar. Maybe be close to watch it the first time so you get the timing down, but it is virtually impossible to screw up. Good luck!

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Alyssa

I am totally with you on loving simple “make ahead” meals for guests. I used to feel this need to impress guests with my cooking prowess, but I would end up totally stressed out, sweating, swearing, and depleted by the time the food was on the table. I love making something simple (but delicious) that will allow me to enjoy some wine with my guests and relax instead of distractedly chitchatting while I saute and chop. I will definitely try this out next time someone comes over!

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Amy

Yum! I’m starting to think about which family we’ll now invite over Saturday night! Which means we’ll have yummy leftovers for Sunday lunch — hmmm, maybe pork tacos!

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Andrea

I would much rather crock pot then leave the oven on for a few hrs… how long do you think it would take in the crock 3 hrs on high? 6 on low? something in the middle?

I did your other braised pork (the pomegranate one) in the crock last week for 4 hrs on low and it was a little dry for me (so now I am asking your opinion instead of me guessing)… REGARDLESS the sauce was amazing!! Thank you!!

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Jenny

Andrea – I’m such a novice in the world of slow-cookers. (I do not own one.) So I leave it to my readers to respond to this. As always, though, if you are doing it in a dutch oven, the liquid level should be monitored carefully so it is always about a third of the way up the pork. Let me know how it turns out!

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Gretchen

This sounds so good! Is there a leaner cut of pork that could be used instead of the pork shoulder? Thanks!

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Clare

Cooked this tonight – my husband said it was the best thing I’d cooked in a year!!
And the kids really did love it.

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jodi

Forget my question about the fennel seeds (I ended up putting them in with the rest of the stuff). This dish was amazing. Haven’t done the dishes yet — needed to write to you and thank you! A great cozy winter meal on a Sunday night. It’s a keeper!

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buzzkehl

this was delish! Love the way the whole house smelled from the very beginning of cooking time. Thanks for this simple, flavorful dish.

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Trese

Made this on Sunday, when we had friends come over for the Duke game. Duke lost, but I won with this dinner. Hubs was a skeptic, but he ended up loving it. The meat was SUPER tender. Everyone liked it, except my 13 year old son, who said it was “so-so,” which actually means, “it was great, make it again.” :)

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Paula

Intended to make this on Sunday but made it today on Snowday instead. We LOVED it. And husband Jaked it up around 3 today, deciding cocktail hour on a snow day should be the same as when visiting the tropics. Gotta love midafternoon Manhattans.

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Matt

Just to followup on cooking this in the crock pot, I tried this today and it was yummy! I braised the pork in a skillet, deglazed with the wine and threw everything in the crock pot. I set it for 9 hours on low because that’s when dinner was, but I am sure 4 or so would be fine. Made for a wonderful, easy mid-week meal to fix in the morning and come home to after a long day at work!

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molly

we made this last night — correction, my husband made it with some email and phone call direction from me. very yummy meal for a cold night. ours was overly juicy, though. I think our pork was super fatty and rendered down a lot, which made the sauce very greasy. next time I’ll have him trim the meat more I guess! any other ideas to thicken it up?

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Anne

I made this last Sunday and it was great! The smell was amazing; the fennel added so much flavor. I used the left overs as a base for taco soup during the week which turned out great as well.

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Stevi

This was fabulous. Super bowl dinner party. I served with sauteed spinach. The kids loved it, too!! The taste is much more complex than the ease of preparation. Thanks so much!!!!!

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Emily

I made this last night for my mom and we loved it! First recipe from your site – boy, you guys passed the test with flying colors! I totally forgot to put in the fennel but it turned out great anyways. I’m a fairly inexperienced cook, with especially little experience in cooking meat, so this was a huge confidence booster for me. I’ll be making it again and again! Thanks!

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Chris

Never cooked pork shoulder before and am a braising novice. Do you take the skin off the pork before browning? Thanks! Can’t wait to try!

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Nicolette

Made this as a special Valentine’s dinner for my boyfriend. His socks were knocked off. So much so I think you needed a telescope to see them. Amazing recipe! Pork came out like BUTTAH. And it was easy to make!

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Catherine

This was FANTASTIC, and a beautiful use of my Le Creuset. The pappardelle is key – don’t even think of substituting it.

LOVE <3 <3 <3

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Courtney

This was AMAZING! What a wonderful recipe – it feeds a lot, is cost effective, and tastes out of this world. Thanks for this great idea. I’ve been passing it onto friends!

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Dwight

My experience with crock pots, which is alot, is that for crock pots you need a lot less liquid. Its a sealed environment so the mositure doesn’t escape the way it will braising in the oven. So I would still brown it. Put the results of that in the crock pot, use diced instead whole tomatoes and cut the wine to 1/2 a cup. It will probably take 6 -8 hours on low.

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Claudine Campbell

WOW!!! This was outstanding!!! We ate it for dinner last night, I had it for lunch today and I can barely wait to get home and make some 10 minute tortellini! A+ thanks for the great recipe!

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Clare

This looks delicious! Is there any other meat that would work as a substitute for pork in this recipe?

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Joanna

“I read your newsletter. Do I win the Inmod Teak Bowl?”

This recipe sounds delicious!

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Courtney

Awesome recipe! I just made this tonight and it was super simple, delicious, and and did I mention just how fabulous this is? I used one-half the oil; two tablespoons is too much, I think. Either way, this is one of my new favorites. Thanks for posting this!

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Heidi

I made this. It made the whole house smell amazing and it looked delicious — but it was really bland. Anyone else have this problem? What did I do wrong?? Should I try upping the amount of hot sauce?

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bergamot

This was delicious and so easy. It’s far more flavourful than you’d expect, given how simple the ingredients are. Thanks! I’ll definitely be making it again (and again and again… you get the idea).

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Emily

This is hands down the best pork shoulder recipe I’ve stumbled upon. I’ve made it 5 times since Thanksgiving and given the recipe to 3.
Diners thought I was brilliant and I basked in the praise, though I eventually pointed them to DALS.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Mark

So I should probably have sought clarification before this was in the oven, but… How much is “1 small pat” of butter? A knob? A stick? Somewhere in between? I went with a stick (as an ex-pat Brit, a pat of butter weighs a pound, so a small pat must be a stick, right?) but it did seem like quite a lot…

Love the blog.

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Jenny

Mark — Oh boy. So sorry about that. I think of a “pat” as a tablespoon or so. Wow that must have been a rich ragu!

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Mark

Thanks Jenny, I’ll keep that in mind when I see it in other recipes.

I’ve just turned the meat over for its fourth hour following a brief interlude with a gravy separator :) Tastes fantastic, I’m looking forward to having it for dinner tonight (over un-buttered pasta!).

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Kerri

Found this recipe on Pinterest and had just bought a ton of pork (on sale) and thought this looked like a great new use for pork shoulder. Wow am I glad I made this! Much easier than the braised pork that I typically make (no veggies to cut up etc) and the flavor was amazing! I did swap the whole tomatoes for two small cans of fire roasted tomatoes but other than that it was identical. Passing this around the office and will probably be one of the first if not the first recipe posted on a new blog website I am starting…THANK YOU!

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Heather

Just made the pork ragu and the only word I can use to describe it is AWESOME! I don’t remember how I managed to stumble about your website, but I’m glad I did. When I describe the website to my husband, I tell him it’s like calling up your best friend when you need a fool proof recipe that you know no matter what will turn out right. I’ve read your book from cover-to-cover and I’m looking forward to purchasing additional copies for christmas gifts! Well done!

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Kim

finally got around to making this (and finishing the book). this was EPIC. seriously, my man was not only amazed by the taste of this dish but the smell in our house! and i couldnt’ agree more. can’t wait to cook my way thru DALS the book like i did with Time for Dinner!

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Carrie

I made this tonight and it was awesome! I used a crockpot and followed the directions adding all the same ingredients. I was nervous that there would be too much liquid but once I shredded the pork it was ok. I had it in the crockpot all day and served with the pappardelle pasta (a must!). My husband and guests loved it and wanted the recipe. Thanks!

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Cathy

I realize this post is old, but hopefully you can reply. When you say a can of tomatoes – do you mean at 14 1/2 oz can or a 28 oz can? I’m assuming large means 28 oz can? Plan to make this for friends on Saturday night. Looks delicious.

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Mike

@Cathy The book says 1 28oz can, so that’s what she means.

I’m also wondering how big of a dutch oven do I need. Is 6 quarts big enough? (6 is probably just a “medium” dutch oven, not a large one).

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Lacy

I made this a few weeks ago and now I’m making it again. It is SO DELICIOUS! Everyone loves it – even my toddler. :)

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Korena

Made this (out of your book) the other night for dinner with my mum and some friends – it was AMAZING. I can’t wait to make it again!

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Courtney

Making this tonight but I could only find pork butt, bone in at our grocery store. I’m going to use the slow cooker because I don’t own a Dutch oven. Any tips on how to work with a bone in piece of meat? Thanks!

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Sharlin

This was fantastic! Thank you so much. I am so grateful to have found such a delicious, impressive dinner that I can quickly prep and bang in the oven, before returning to my daily routine of chasing my 2-year old around the house. I am pathologically incapable of following a recipe exactly, but I did my best for this one: I had a 3.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder, so I increased all the sauce components to account for that. In my excitement to use up one of the many, MANY condiment bottles in the fridge, I poured out the last 3 T of hot sauce into the braising mixture–which turned out to be straight habanero sauce. So I increased the red wine, and added a splash of orange juice and a squeeze of honey to tone down the fire. It cooked in 2.5 hours, and we ate an inappropriate amount of it–so, so good.

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furf

Molto delizioso! This was *so* easy, *so* tasty, and made so much that we have extra enough to stuff ravioli for tomorrow night’s dinner! Grazie mille!

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Karen Crowley

I got this cookbook for myself for Christmas and I feel like you’ve been with me since I was an original subscriber to Real Simple and Cookie and occasionally BA. Anyway love everything about your approach – have given it at two showers. Last night made the butternut sq soup which my meat loving husband loved. Tonight, this recipe which he promptly declared, “one of the best things you’ve ever made” (and I consider myself a pretty darn good home cook!). Just wanted you to know how much I am (and we are – my kids liked it too!) enjoying you writing and recipes. Thanks so much for writing this blog and this book!!

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Shannon

This was really great. I only had a 4lb roast and used it with the rest of the ingredients unchanged.

@Lindsay – I couldn’t find pappardelle pasta either. I bought fettuccine, but then ended up making my own pasta and cutting it into pappardelle sized strips. Cook’s Illustrated has a great recipe for Fresh Pasta Without a Machine (but you probably need a subscription to view it). http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/detail.asp?docid=35740

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Elizabeth Degenhard

This is a family favorite. Made it yesterday with a very large roast (probably 5lbs)–I’ve gotten three meals out of it! Last night we had it over linguini (I didn’t have any pappardelle); today for lunch I brushed whole wheat flour tortillas with olive oil, sprinkled on parmesan, baked them for 10 minutes in the oven, and filled them with warmed-up leftover pork ragu. Tonight I’m making homemade pizza crusts to top with the pork ragu–I might try crumbled bleu cheese and chopped toasted pecans as toppings. My kids LOVE your recipes. I’ve made the pork dumplings, the salad pizza, and the braised short ribs multiple times. Thanks so much!

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Sadie

Made this tonight – it ended up super super juicy. Not at all like the picture. Next time you make this would you mind taking pictures of the steps? I must be missing something…. It tastes good but is much more tomatoey and liquidy.

Thanks!
-Sadie

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Bianca

YUM!!! I tweaked it a bit just because that is how I do things….soooooo good. Loved it, love your blog so happy to find you!

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Awads

i made this and have to say: it looked just like the picture! i even made it for a dinner party w/o trying it out ahead of time, because i TRUST you. i had a giant pork shoulder, though…7.5 pounds! i just added a few more tomatoes and a few more herbs. didn’t need to double anything else. it was perfect!

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Christina

If I double the recipe (having 10 people over for dinner so will probably cook 3 3-1/2 lbs of pork) will it take much longer? I will put it in after work at 5 but would like to eat by 9:30. Or can I make it the night before?

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Natalie

Thank you for this recipe, Jenny! It was absolutely delicious. I subbed fresh rosemary for the oregano, because that’s what I had. I’ll definitely be making this again, and again, and again…

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Lissa

Have made this many times but substitute the pasta with braised cabbage for a little bit healthier dish. The vinegar really helps cut the richness of the pork, and we never miss the pasta.

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Lynn

I made this last night but with chicken instead of pork, and consequently stumbled upon something pretty important. DO NOT use a whole broken down bone-in chicken for this recipe. I was not thrilled with the pork quality at my TJ’s so I thought I’d substitute an organic split chicken. The taste is still amazing, but there are little tiny bones EVERYWHERE. I’m not even sure what happened to the chicken skin. It must have dissolved over the 3 hour cooking time. But these darn bones… very child-unfriendly.

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Dave

My sister in-law made this after a day of frigid cold skiing. Beyond full after my second bowl I still managed a third. One of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had.

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Alice

I made this last night for dinner and I am in love with it. Seriously, totally in love. My girls took a bite because I couldn’t stop talking about it. Not a hit with them yet, but I will convert them because this will definitely be made a lot. Thank you!

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Cathleen

My house smells heavenly while we wait for Superbowl kick-off. Thanks for the recipe.

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Jessi

OH. MY. LORD. You guys, I was so worried while I was making this. All of the sentiments that everyone else has expressed, I felt. I did mine in a slow-cooker, and it did, indeed, seem WAY too liquid-y. And the pork shoulder I used was skin-on, which I didn’t even realize until the skin started floating off in grotesque, gelatinous hunks. So I had to fish it all out. And then it seemed greasy. Very, VERY greasy. So I tried to taste it and burned my tongue terribly, which made me think that the sauce was bland. But as soon as I shredded the pork (and tossed in some red pepper flake, which in my opinion should be added to EVERYTHING), it all came together in a saucy, zesty, porky symphony. This stuff is AMAZING. It didn’t even need the pasta or parm. Mine didn’t really look like the pictures; it was more saucy, but MAN was it good. Fear not, fellas. It’ll come together.

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Chris

This was great. I sauteed a little fresh spinach in olive oil salt and pepper to have on the side but ended up just mixing it in which was great.

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Angela

Just finished making this for my parents and it smells amazing! I don’t know how I’m going to wait until dinner time to eat it. I make a lot of recipes that I find on food blogs but it takes a true gem to be a keeper and this is it! Thanks for posting my fav pork recipe!

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Shauna

I’ve long been a fan of this recipe made in the oven, and today decided to go the slow cooker route. I made a few adjustments to make up for the super moist environment of the cooker and avoid ending up with a sea of liquid–I got excellent, equivalent results by browning the shoulder in a big skillet first, and then putting it in the cooker. Then softening the onion and garlic, and deglazing with the wine, reducing it by about half. Drained some of the juice off the tomatoes. Dumped everything in the cooker, and when it was all done (4 hours on high, 6 to 8 on low), jazzed it up a bit with a spoonful of red wine vinegar to make up for the tomato flavor not concentrating as much in a slow cooker as it would in the oven. Hope that long-winded explanation helps those that might want to slow cook this awesome recipe.

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Nisserine

I made this last night and it turned out perfect. I didn’t have fennel which was the only ingredient i left out. I will be making this over and over all year! Thank you for sharing.

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Ashley

Any suggestions for what red wine to use in this recipe? I don’t cook with a lot of wine and I want to use a good one!

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Suzette

We LOVE LOVE LOVE this! Instead of papparadelle we always use Barilla Campanelle. This pasta holds the meat and sauce even better. Give it a try!

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Jan Halle

So, my daughter with kids ages three and five fixed me this recipe when I was in Seattle while her husband was in Tokyo. The first night we had it over toasted bread slices. That was good but the next night over noodles was even better. I return to Chapel Hill define pork shoulders that were 6 pounds on sale. That seemed way too much but that was all there was. Just as easy and more of a good thing. This is an award-winning recipe in my book!

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Dawn

Making this for tonight! First recipe I found using a shoulder that was only 2lbs. Didn’t know what to do w it and had picked it up because it was on Sale. I am optimistic as it smells yummy right now and all I have done is brown and add ingredients. Thank you for providing recipe.

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Colleen

Thank you so much for this. I just finished reading your book and this was the first thing I had to make (actually, I guess the first thing I started making was a food journal!) despite not having plans for a dinner party. My husband said “this is such comfort” and my five year old said “no, it’s so yummy, and I don’t pop up with a ‘yum’ about most things!” Definitely making again, soon!

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Megan

Since I am struggling finding good pork dishes decided to give this a try. Since there isn’t enough time for me to make this after work, I made it the day before and reheat while cooking the pasta. It was a hit! Good cook ahead meal for a weekday night. This is winner!!!

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Kathryn @ Mamacado

Happy to have found your blog on 100 days of real food. Excited to try this recipe! I will make it dairy free for my son with food allergies! thanks so much.

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