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Cooking for Wine #4 - Pork Cheek Ragu

It has often been commented that Italian food and wine are the best matches in the wine world. There are so many different styles of cuisine in Italy and given that there are around 2000 grapes varieties indigenous to Italy it is no surprise that the marriage of the two is one made in heaven. Italian cuisine is, without a doubt, one of my favourite but it is often not until you eat really good Italian food that you understand why they are so passionate about it.Cooking for Wine - Pork Cheek Ragu In my mind there are Italian restaurants, and there are Italian restaurants. I recently had friends with kids visiting and so when we went out for dinner it was to the first kind of Italian that we went. Here they serve decent pizza, garlic bread that's all exactly the same size and shape and pasta dishes that once resided at the bottom of a deep freeze. The food serves a purpose, the staff are mostly Eastern European and the wine list appeals to those who don't really care if the wine compliments the food or not. Then there is the other kind of Italian which, in this case can be found exactly opposite the other one and usually has a queue out the door.

Osteria Antica Bologna in Clapham Junction is an Italian restaurant  run by Italians and you can feel the passion and pride as soon as you walk through the door. The wine list displays nothing but Italian wines and the staff, all Italian, are more than happy to discuss your choice with you. The menu offers types of pasta I hadn't even heard of before and the food screams authenticity, simplicity and bags of flavour. The dish I had was based around Wild Boar and to say it was delicious would be an understatement. I decided to try to replicate it at home but my butchers did not hold Wild Boar, he suggested instead that I use Pork Cheeks.Cooking for wine - prok cheek ragu They are incredibly cheap and as they have a good amount of fat marbling it literally falls apart when slow cooked. My recipes tend to be very much thrown together with 'some' of this and a 'bit' of that but I will try and give vague quantities in case you wish to try it for yourself.

So, using a good solid casserole dish or crock pot pour in a table spoon or so of vegetable oil and allow to heat up on the hob. Trim the excess fat off the pork cheeks and season them well with salt and pepper, I had 4 of them, and place in the pan. Seal well on both sides until you get a good colour on the cheeks and some lovely dark bits on the bottom of the pan. Once they are sealed around remove them from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat under the pan and add a medium onion, 3 sticks of celery, and a couple of carrots, all finely chopped. Scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and saute the veg until soft. Now add a couple of teaspoons of tomato puree and mix well into the veg, cook through until the metallic smell is replaced with a lovely sweet tomato-y smell. Slug in a couple of glasses of white wine, I used an oakey Chardonnay, and a tin of chopped tomatoes and really de-glaze the pan, get all the sticky, dark bits off the bottom of the pan as they hold so much flavour. Mix everything together and replace the pork cheeks, including any juices that have been released and also throw in 'some' thyme, oregano and a bay leaf (any woody herbs will do the trick)and a few garlic cloves to suit your taste.  Make sure the liquid covers the cheeks, put the lid on and simmer on a low heat for around 3 hours.

Cooking for Wine - Pork cheek ragu

Once the time is up carefully remove the cheeks from the pan and using two forks literally rip it to pieces. Remove any stalks left behind from the herbs and return the shredded pork back to the sauce. Mix the meat well through the sauce and ensure it is all coated nicely, taste and season as preferred. It's such an easy dish to make but the results are simply delicious. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and grated Parmessn and serve with parpadelle pasta ribbons, any leftovers serve warm as open sandwiches on crusty bread.

As mentioned earlier if you're eating Italian, you really should drink Italian too. So, I've chosen an obvious wine and one less obvious to match to this amazingly flavoursome dish.

Morellino di Scansano Bellamarsilia, Poggio Argentiera, Toscana, 2010

Morellino if the local name for Sangiovese in this part of Italy. The wine is dense and cram-packed full of sweet and sour black cherry flavours. There is a slight earthy, spicy twang and the finish is so smooth and sumptuous. It works with the richness of the meat and has enough acidity to cut through and cleanse the palate. Delicious!

Domaine Parigot Pommard 'Clos de le Chaniere' 1er Cru 2009

For my second choice I've gone for something French but being Pinot Noir it is an absolute with any rich rustic dish based around pork and/or tomatoes. It has a wonderful savoury twang and plenty of crunchy cherry, strawberry and cranberry fruit. There is a slight smokiness that is a treat with the pork and again the acidity helps to finish the dish off a treat.   Try it for yourself and let us know the results, I bet you'll serve it over and over again.  

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