Papardelle with Pork & Pumpkin Ragu

This Papardelle with Pork & Pumpkin Ragu was born because, upon getting home from Italy a couple weeks ago, I promptly found myself daydreaming about pasta.

The truth is, I don't actually feel like I ate enough of it while I was there. Before our trip, I had fantasies of long lunches in the sun with multiple courses and glasses of wine, followed by lazy walks through ancient cobblestone streets, afternoon naps, and equally lush dinners.

We only had about four and a half days in Italy--a brief detour at the tail end of a two-week trip spent primarily in Greece, but I figured it would still be enough time...

It was not.

I think that happens a lot--where the vacation we dream about isn't exactly the vacation that happens. It was still wonderful, just not quite what I had hoped for. In our case, it's because my husband and I went in with different expectations (also something that happens a lot). It was his first time in Italy and he was excited to tour legendary historical sites, while I really just wanted to eat and roam. (No pun intended.)

I lived in Italy about 11 years ago and loved it. But as a broke culinary school student, there was a lot of life around me that I so badly wanted to participate in, but just couldn't afford.

With two roommates in similar predicaments, we mostly cooked at home, drank cheap wine, and stole leftover food and ingredients from school even though it was explicitly forbidden. (A poofy chef hat makes an excellent hiding spot.) My lunch most days was a very-not-Italian two-for-$1 chicken skewer from a Chinese take-away. Restaurants and clothing stores were out of our reach. Bars were OK, but our ability to get drinks depended on attracting the attention of an interested stranger (not that, admittedly, this was ever much of a challenge.)

Our big "splurge" was usually a 10 euro special at a pizzeria near our school that offered a margarita pizza or a plate of pasta carbonara, an insipid salad, and a big glass of house wine. We'd treat ourselves with this once a week (usually on a Monday after receiving our respective modest living allowance), spending much of Sunday night deciding on the pasta or the pizza. It was very good, but not quite the sparkling meals I'd spy through restaurant windows as I walked home at night.

And so I was excited to go back with the ability to say yes when in the past I had to say no. I pictured myself composing a meal with items from each section of the menu without having to add up the numbers in my head. Of saying yes to a tempting special without nervously asking for the price. Of ordering a bottle of wine based on how it went with my food, not because it was the cheapest thing on the list. It's not anything remarkably different from what I do when I go out here in New York, but there was something particularly important to me about being able to do that in a place where I once could not.

I know I'll get another chance to go back on my terms (the round-trip ticket search is already saved in my browser). And until then, this comforting Pork and Pumpkin Ragu will satisfy at least part of those yearnings. It's the kind of simple, but rich sauce that requires little from you as it bubbles and simmers on the stove.

I served it over fresh pasta, which you can make yourself or buy at the store. (I bought mine this time.) The soft, chewy noodles make a difference in the dish so don't skip it.

Loved this Papardelle with Pork & Pumpkin Ragu recipe? Here are three other easy pasta recipes you might like:

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Papardelle with Pork & Pumpkin Ragu
Serves 4-6

Olive oil
3 pounds boneless pork ribs (“country style ribs”)
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 28oz cans crushed tomatoes
2 cups dry Italian red wine
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 cup beef or chicken stock
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pound fresh pappardelle or other fresh noodle pasta


Coat the bottom of a large heavy dutch oven with a few tablespoons of olive oil and place over medium-high heat. Add the ribs and cook in batches a few minutes on each side until brown, transfer to a plate and repeat with rest of ribs.

Add a couple more tablespoons of oil to pot and add onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Saute for 5 minutes or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, wine, oregano, stock, pumpkin, nutmeg, and bay leaf. Stir to combine, then add the ribs to the pot. Raise heat and bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and let simmer 1 1/2 hours or until meat is very tender.

Use a fork to shred meat and stir into sauce, simmer uncovered for additional 30 minutes or until sauce has thickened.

Boil pappardelle according to package directions, and serve with sauce. Garnish with grated cheese and fresh parsley.

Note: Sauce can be made up to two days in advance and reheated (it’s actually even better that way!).

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