Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Tale of Two Duck Ragus: Mario Batali and Polpo

When I feel like a ragu, a great dish for casual entertaining, I’ve been returning to a favorite from Mario Batali’s fabulous book, Molto Italiano: Garganelli withDuck Ragu.  Although the preparation of a ragu does take some time, it’s well worth the effort!

Last Friday was a holiday and, with an afternoon to spare, I decided to try a new recipe for duck ragu, Duck, Black Olive, and Tomato Ragu, in a cookbook that we found last month, Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) by Russell Norman, with recipes from Polpo, the Venetian small-plate restaurant in London.

These are two very different approaches to ragu and both are great.  Mario instructs me to cook duck legs in olive oil until brown on all sides.  I then pour out most of the duck fat and slowly cook onion, garlic, celery, and sage at low heat with a little additional olive oil (Mario suggest cooking them in the duck fat, but I prefer to only save a little of the duck fat for flavor and add some more olive oil).  I then add the duck legs back into the pot, along with red wine, San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand, and chicken stock.  Cover and simmer for an hour.

To prepare the duck legs à la Polpo. I brown the duck legs in the oven at 475 ºF until the skin is crispy, then continue to bake them for another hour at 400ºF..

Both approaches produce great duck legs and after cooking in the sauce or in the oven, I remove the duck legs and set them aside to cool (saving the sauce in the pot).  Once cool, I pull the duck meat off the bone and shred it.  (I usually get impatient and start pulling the meat off long before it is cool and end up with hot fingers.) 

While the duck legs cook, Polpo directs me to make a liter and a half of Basic Tomato Sauce, starting with onion, garlic, chili flakes, salt, and pepper cooked in olive oil.  I then add canned (San Marzano here also) and fresh tomatoes and cook the sauce longer than the suggested hour and a half until it has a firm consistency, leaving a trough when I run a spoon through it.  While the tomato sauce is cooking, I roast cherry tomatoes in the oven until they blister.

For Mario’s recipe, I return the shredded duck meat to the sauce in the pot and cook it all for another half hour while the garganelli boils to al dente.  I then add the pasta to the sauce, cook for another minute or two and serve.

For the Polpo ragu, I add black olives and green peppercorns to the Basic Tomato Sauce and simmer a bit.  I then add the shredded duck, simmer a bit more, add the roasted cherry tomatoes and serve.  Polpo suggests serving with polenta or gnocchi, and I make gnocchi this time. 

We have about half of the ragu for dinner and save the rest for a few days later, served the second time with mezzi rigatoni.  We prefer the mezzi rigatoni over the gnocchi, cooked al dente, it’s a great taste and size to complement the ragu.   We are coming to truly enjoy ragus a day or two after they are made, the tastes have matured and blended.

These are two very different approaches to duck ragù and I will return to both over and over in the future.  They’re both fabulous and will never cease to please!

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