Pasta with apples: A ragu that breaks from convention

When apples season arrives, most people think of pies; Top Chef-winner Stephanie Izard thinks of tomatoes.

If you recognize my name, you probably know my motto, said Stephanie Izard in Girl in the Kitchen (Chronicle). Since appearing on Top Chef in 2008 and winning that season’s title, I’ve often been quoted as saying that my goal in the kitchen is to “make your whole mouth happy.” Because the experience of eating is more intense and more memorable when “all your taste buds” light up, I strive to create dishes that each strike “the right balance of savory, sweet, salty, and even a little spice.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I love making a ragu with fresh apples. Whenever apple season arrives, other people think pie; I think tomatoes. The recipe below is “extremely simple,” but “the number of flavors involved makes it unique, and a lot more fun than your average pasta with meat sauce.” Use Honeycrisp apples if you can find them: “Their perfect sweet-to-tart ratio marries well with tomatoes.” The “overall sweetness” of the sauce is offset by the saltiness of the capers.

At my Chicago restaurant, Girl & the Goat, we make fresh pasta ourselves, and I can promise that this ragu is “awesome” with fresh pappardelle. But dried pasta is fine too, and you’ll discover that a small shell-shaped pasta, such as orechiette, is great at “capturing a few bits of pork” with each bite. “If you’re a cheese freak like me,” you’ll want to add a grating of Parmesan. Instead of pairing the dish with wine, try an oatmeal stout.

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Recipe of the week

Apple-pork ragu with pappardelle

1 tsp olive oil

12 oz ground pork

2 strips thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces

½ cup diced onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 Honeycrisp apples, peeled and cut into ¼-inch slices

½ cup dry white wine

15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, smashed by hand or chopped

1 cup chicken broth

1 lb fresh or dried pappardelle noodles

2 tbsp brined capers

2 tbsp thinly sliced fresh basil

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until it browns, 5 to 7 minutes, breaking it into smaller pieces with a spoon. Set aside.

In a large sauce pot or Dutch oven, lightly brown bacon over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and sweat by cooking until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add apples and wine and simmer until wine is reduced by three quarters.

Add tomatoes, broth, and browned pork and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until the ragu has thickened somewhat, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop the pasta in the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse. Add capers and basil to ragu just before serving. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle over pasta and top with grated Parmesan. Serves 4 as an entrée, 8 as an appetizer.

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