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Apologies, bad joke

Last week I said I had finally gotten into the BBC through an open window. This was a joke.

I should clarify: I am yet to receive an offer from the BBC to front all their food programmes, appear on Strictly, and become the next Terry Wogan. Nevertheless, thank you for the endless (four) congratulatory messages.

Now that’s sorted, time for this week’s recipe: pappardelle with duck and pancetta ragú. Slow-cooked tender duck in a rich red wine and port sauce + thick ribbon pasta = everything you need on a cold autumn day.

This week’s album
Geography by Tom Misch

This album is really easy going and hard not to enjoy. London based Misch was originally a producer but soon found his own voice. This is evident throughout the album which contains engaging beats and jazzy riffs, all complemented by his soft and relaxing vocals.

Huge flavour, small effort

The origins of duck ragú are disputed, although it’s most commonly found in Tuscany and Venice.

However, as autumn arrives and ragú season officially starts, you’ll find duck ragú all over the country. Each region doing a slight variation of the recipe.

Whole ducks - jointed and cooked slowly in a mixture of wine, herbs, and tomatoes - are usually used.

The meat is often removed (the remaining wine/tomato/duck flavoured sauce being used for pasta or a ‘primo piatto’) and served as a main course or ‘secondo piatto’. This is an incredible way to make a pasta sauce but more time consuming and labour intensive.

This week we’re going to simplify things but still make something equally great. Three things…

1. We’ll use duck breasts and pancetta. The breasts will break down to form a deliciously meaty sauce and the pancetta really boosts the overall flavour. As we're leaving all the meat in the sauce we're not going to use tomatoes, it's just not necessary.

2. We’ll stick with the winning combo of red wine and duck, but also add in some port.

Port is naturally sweet but, when cooked, this sweetness intensifies which compliments the duck and helps to balance out the harshness of the red wine. Be sure to use a decent, full-bodied red. One you’d be happy to drink afterwards.

3. Pappardelle pasta is a great match for this sauce as the thick ribbons will carry the sauce perfectly.

If you fancy giving it a go, pappardelle is easy to make and totally worth it. 

Otherwise, I would suggest looking for a decent fresh pasta from a deli or buying dried pappardelle (just make sure it’s an ‘egg pasta’). I would avoid fresh pasta from the supermarket. The taste and texture is never great, and dried pasta will yield a better result anyway.

Live in London? Head to Lina Stores for some decent fresh pasta.

What you need

The below serves 2. It takes 20 mins to prep and 80 mins to cook.

2 duck breasts (skin on)

80g pancetta (diced/lardons)

1 shallot (finely diced)

2 celery sticks (peeled & finely diced)

4 thyme sprigs (leaves picked & finely chopped)

150ml red wine (full bodied & decent quality)

150ml port

250ml chicken stock

1 bay leaf

250g pappardelle (or similar)

50g unsalted butter (diced)

15g parsley (leaves picked & roughly chopped)

75g parmesan (finely grated)

Ready, steady, cook

1. Remove the skin from the duck breasts. Gently peel them off and, to avoid removing any of the meat, use a small knife to cut where they’re still attached. Roughly cut the skins into strips. Remove any sinew from the breasts and then cut the duck into 1cm cubes. Set aside.

2. Heat a large frying over a medium-high heat and add the strips of duck skin. Once the fat begins to render, add the diced pancetta. Leave on a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta starts to brown and crisp. This should take about 10 mins.

When ready, drain through a sieve over a bowl and transfer to kitchen paper to drain the excess fat. Finally, when cool, remove and discard the strips of duck skin so you’re left only with the pancetta.

3. Put a saucepan on a medium heat and add in 2 tbsps of the reserved duck/pancetta fat. Add in the diced shallot and celery, along with a good pinch of salt. Leave to sweat for 10-12 mins. You want them soft but without colour.

4. Meanwhile, return the frying pan to a high heat. Add in another 2 tbsps of the reserved duck/pancetta fat and, when hot, add in the diced duck meat. Season well with salt and pepper. Fry for a few mins, or until all the duck is nicely browned.

Once coloured, transfer the duck to the now softened vegetables (keep the frying pan as you’ll use it later to finish the dish).

NOTE: the duck might release some liquid as the pan cools down. Don’t worry. Leave the pan on a high heat and let the liquid evaporate. Once this has happened it will begin to colour and fry again.

5. Add the chopped thyme to the veg and duck. Cook for a minute on a gentle heat. Now turn up the heat and, when everything starts to sizzle, add in the red wine and port. Allow to boil for a couple of mins - or until the harsh alcohol flavour disappears - and then add in the chicken stock and bay leaf.

Bring to a simmer and pop on a lid (keep the lid slightly ajar so the liquid can evaporate). Leave to cook on a low heat for an hour (you want a gentle simmer rather than an aggressive boil). Stir halfway through and check that it’s reducing nicely. If it’s not, turn the heat up slightly.

6. Towards the end of the hour, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. This is for the pasta.

7. After an hour the liquid should have reduced to a sauce-like consistency. Use a whisk to break down the duck meat to finish the ragú. Transfer back to the large frying pan and keep warm.

8. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the packet’s instructions for ‘al dente’. When cooked, transfer the pasta to the ragú along with half a ladle of the cooking water. Turn up the heat.

Stir through the ragú, tossing the pan vigorously so the pasta and sauce combine. Add in the diced butter and the chopped parsley, tossing again until the butter combines with the sauce.

9. Check the seasoning for salt and pepper. Serve in warm bowls and finish with the grated parmesan.

Final thought

Next week you can expect to hear some big news from Eat My Words HQ. News about you being able to actually eat my food, not just cook my words. #Excited.

Until then, enjoy your time in the kitchen.


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Eat My Words · Kew Gardens · Kew, TW9 · United Kingdom

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