Linguine with Ragu Bianco and nose-to-tail tales
Ground pork and pork liver are cooked with mushrooms, shallots, garlic, fennel, and thyme, then finished with cream in this traditional Italian pasta sauce.
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Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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1 fennel bulb, diced, about 1-1/2 to 2 cups (see Kitchen Notes)
2 shallots, chopped (or 1 medium onion)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dry)
2 tablespoons chopped fennel fronds
1 cup Chicken stock (or low-sodium broth)
1 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine or broth]
1/4 cup cream or half & half
1 pound linguine
Heat a large nonstick skillet or sauté pan over medium flame. Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl together. Add mushrooms and sauté, turning occasionally, until they brown nicely and give up their moisture and it cooks off, about 5 minutes. Drizzle in a little more olive oil, if needed – mushrooms are sponges. Remove pan from flame and pour in brandy [or fruit syrup]. Return to flame and cook, stirring, until brandy just about evaporates. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in pan and add ground pork and ground pork liver. Season lightly with salt and cook, stirring with wooden spoon to combine. Use the spoon to break up the meat as it cooks. The meat will smell very liver-forward at this point, but don’t be alarmed; just use your stove vent and keep your pickier eaters out of the kitchen.
When meat is cooked through, push it to the sides of the pan and add the diced fennel and shallots. Cook, stirring, until shallots begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Create another hole in the middle of the pan and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant, 45 seconds or so, and add 1 cup of chicken stock. Add wine [or more stock] and stir to combine. Sprinkle thyme and fennel fronds over mixture, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally, adding more stock a little at a time if sauce becomes too dry (I added stock three different times, but use a light hand).
Meanwhile, start a pot of water for the pasta. When sauce has been cooking for an hour, cook the pasta according to package directions. Remove sauce from heat and stir in cream and the last tablespoon of butter. Taste and adjust seasonings. When pasta is just al dente, drain quickly and toss about half of it with sauce. Add more pasta and toss to combine. If you don’t add all the cooked pasta, that’s okay, but you probably will.
Using tongs, divide pasta among 4 shallow pasta bowls. Spoon remaining sauce in the pan over the bowls of pasta and serve immediately.
Not a liver lover? I’m not either, in the straight up “here’s your liver and onions” sense. I love pâtés and braunschsweiger, though. If that’s your take on liver, you’ll like this dish as is. The wine and, at the end, the cream and butter all combine to tame the liver’s characteristic flavor while still letting it shape the dish. Some recipes use a smaller amount of liver in relation to the other meat or meats. Others dispense with liver altogether, combining different mixes of pork, beef and chicken. At least one recipe includes venison in the mix, providing some of the gaminess I enjoy in this version.
How to prepare fennel bulbs. I’ve been cooking with fennel bulbs a lot lately, so I skipped how to wrestle with one in this recipe. If you’d like a detailed description, you’ll find it in my Caramelized Fennel with Fettuccine and Goat Cheese recipe.
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