Homemade pasta with a slowly braised ragu is perfectly suited for making as a Sunday supper. The process fits in well with the pace of the day, and results in a lusciously rustic meal that leaves us fortified for the week to come. After the paper is read and breakfast cleared away, I start the braise around mid-day, with the remaining steps tucked in while puttering about at other chores. Making the pasta is easily slipped in as we move towards late afternoon, sometime between having a cup of tea and the first glass of wine.
Italians select their pasta with care, considering texture and shape to compliment the sauce. Pappardelle, pasta cut in long, wide ribbons, is most commonly found in Tuscany, where in the local dialect it means “to gobble up” or “stuff oneself.” This shape can be found ready-made and dried, but it’s at its best when made fresh. Eggs enrich the dough, lending a silky texture with a delicate tensile strength that enables it to stand up to the chunky, flavorsome braises of game it’s usually paired with.
I often make this ragu with guinea hen, which is on offer at the farmers’ market from time to time. This skittery bird has a sweet, dark meat with hints of spice. It seems to spend its life running away in constant alarm, and braising helps render it tender. At a average weight of 2 to 2½ pounds, the birds aren’t very large and I leave the bird whole. You can call it the lazy approach — it takes a little longer to braise, but omits having to break it down and brown the pieces separately. I like to think it’s actually a thriftier one — it makes every last scrap of meat accessible for the ragu.
This can be made with other poultry, such as duck or goose (with the fatty skin removed), or even rabbit; simply adjust the cooking times. I like to use white wine with the guinea fowl; the hearty flavor of duck and goose favors using red. If in season, the original recipe suggests adding a handful of sauteed wild mushrooms to the sauce.
Pappardelle with Braised Guinea Hen Ragu
1 guinea hen
Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 celery stalk, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 medium onion
3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 sprigs thyme, rosemary or sage; leaves stripped from stems and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry red or white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
8 – 12 ounces pappardelle
– Heat oven to 300°F. Pat guinea fowl dry, and season generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and brown guinea fowl on each side, about 6 minutes per side. Remove guinea fowl and set aside.
– Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, herbs and 1 teaspoon salt to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to brown. Return hen to pot, then add wine and tomato paste, stirring to dissolve the paste. Bring to a simmer, then add 1 cup of water and return to a simmer. Cover place in oven to braise until meat is tender, about 60 minutes or longer, turning the bird several timse during cooking. It is ready when the meat can be pulled off the bone easily.
– Remove pot from oven and let cool. Pull meat from bones in large chunks; discard skin and bones. Remove bay leaf; puree vegetables with braising liquid in a food processor or blender. Return to pot, along with the meat, add remaining 1/2 cup water, and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cover and cook for 30 to 45 minutes more to allow flavors to meld. Remove from heat, adjust seasonings, and stir in the parsley. Serve tossed with cooked pasta, some grated Parmesan and finished with a drizzle of good olive oil. Alternatively, let cool and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
Adapted from “Olives & Oranges” by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.