The Tender Braised Pork Ragù That Brought Me Back to Myself During Postpartum Depression

updated Apr 22, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Pork Shoulder Ragù with Pappardelle

This dish would pair well with a salad with some sweetness. Greens with apples and shaved fennel? Greens with pistachios and pomegranates? Either would be good.


Cook3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Meghan Splawn

Jenny Rosenstrach describes her Pork Shoulder Ragù as an “instant dinner party,” so it is hard for me to remember what willed me to cook it for the first time 10 years ago. I was home on maternity leave, nursing a newborn in a new house, with no dinner party plans in sight. I recall that January as one of the darkest of my life, not just because it was cold and dark, but because as first-time mom, I didn’t know what postpartum depression would look like.

I distinctly remember how Jenny’s writing made me feel hope in the dark of a late-night feeding session — Dinner: A Love Story on my phone in one hand and a fussy baby in the other arm — so I flagged the recipe to make later. “I will get to cook for pleasure again, ” I assured myself. It was weeks before I actually gathered the ingredients and energy to cook this Pork Shoulder Ragù, but everything about making it for the first time was so restorative that this is now the recipe I reach for time and time again when I need to come back to myself.

Buy the book: Dinner: A Love Story

Credit: Photo: Meghan Splawn

The Restorative Power of Braising Pork Ragù

Braising is a powerful cooking technique that uses long, slow heat to turn tough cuts of meat and hardy vegetables into tender, delicious bites. Even before trying Jenny’s pork ragù I was versed in throwing a pork shoulder or short ribs in the oven for a long braise, mostly using the results to feed friends and my husband’s family.

This pork shoulder ragù follows many of the classic steps for any braise: You season a pork shoulder roast with salt and pepper before browning it in a mixture of olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven. The golden-brown pork shoulder comes out of the pot, then aromatics like onion, carrots, and celery go into the pot to soften. Next up is a combination of herbs, tomato paste, wine and broth, which go into the pot before the pork shoulder goes back in. The lid goes on the Dutch oven and the whole thing goes into the oven for hours.

What happens during those three to four hours while the pork braises is pretty magical: The house gets perfumed with the hypnotizing smell of onions, garlic, wine, and fennel and you really start looking forward to dinner. Other worries and stress seem to melt away as the pork shoulder softens in the oven.

The first time I made Jenny’s pork ragù my husband and I ate it directly from the pot with buttered bread while the baby slept. We were exhausted new parents who couldn’t even bother to boil water for pasta. I’m not sure what it was, but something about that dinner loosened my shoulders and helped me let my guard down enough to tell my husband I was struggling and I needed help with what we later learned was postpartum depression. Ten years (and another kid!) later, we still make this pork shoulder every January to celebrate our daughter’s birthday, and we even break it out for guests every once in a while, too. The combination of slow-braised pork and tender pappardelle is pure comfort for both my tastebuds and my heart.

Pork Shoulder Ragù with Pappardelle

This dish would pair well with a salad with some sweetness. Greens with apples and shaved fennel? Greens with pistachios and pomegranates? Either would be good.

Cook time 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    boneless or bone-in pork shoulder roast (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds)

  • Salt and pepper

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil, plus more for drizzling

  • 1 tablespoon


  • 1

    small onion, chopped

  • 1 clove

    garlic, minced

  • 1 (28-ounce) can

    whole or chopped tomatoes, with juice

  • 1 cup

    red wine, plus more as needed

  • 5 sprigs

    fresh thyme

  • 5 sprigs

    fresh oregano

  • Small handful of fennel seeds

  • 1 tablespoon

    hot sauce, for smokiness (we use Trader Joe’s hot chili sauce)

  • 1 pound

    dried pappardelle pasta

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

  2. Dry the pork with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper all over. Add the oil and butter to a large Dutch oven and heat over medium-high heat until the butter melts but does not burn.

  3. Add the pork roast to the pan and brown it on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes in all.

  4. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, wine, thyme, oregano, fennel, and hot sauce and bring to a boil. Cover and put in the oven. Braise for 3 to 4 hours, turning every hour or so. Add more liquid—water or wine—if needed. (No matter what size pot you are using, the liquid should come to at least one-third of the way up the pork.) The meat is done when it’s practically falling apart. Remove the pork to a cutting board, pull it apart with two forks, and then add the pulled meat back to the pot and stir. Remove the herb sprigs.

  5. Cook the pasta according to package directions. When it’s ready, put it into individual bowls and top with ragù, lots of Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

Recipe Notes

Serving size: This serves about six normal-size people (or four parents and four kids). If you are cooking for more than that, cook another pound of pasta, up the meat to 3 pounds, and add a few more tomatoes and another 1/2 cup of red wine. Like all braised meats, it’s nearly impossible to get wrong, so don’t get too hung up on the exactness of measurements.

From Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. Copyright 2012 Jenny Rosenstrach. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.