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Pappardelle with Venetian Duck Ragu

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Serves 4 to 6

Yields about 1 quart ragu

  • by from Fine Cooking
    Issue 113

In northern Italy, ragùs tend to be less about tomatoes and more about the meat and aromatic herbs that flavor them. Venetian ragù, for example, is made from the meat of the wild ducks and is perfumed with native bay leaf and fresh sage. Some versions of this ragù use duck stock and the liver and giblets, while others (like the recipe below) get deep flavor from duck legs and thighs and dry red wine. Venetian duck ragù is typically served with fat, tubular buckwheat noodles called bigoli, but it’s also delicious with whole-wheat fettuccine, spaghetti, or pappardelle, as shown here.

  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 skin-on, bone-in duck legs and thighs
  • Kosher or fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh sage
  • 1 fresh bay leaf or 1/2 dried
  • 1 cup dry Italian red wine, such as Valpolicella
  • 1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 to 1 cup lower-salt chicken broth
  • 1 lb. fresh pappardelle, preferably whole-wheat, or fettucine or spaghetti
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for serving (optional)
Make the ragu

Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat. Season both sides of the duck legs and thighs with salt and pepper and arrange them in the pot, skin side down. Sear until the skin is browned and crisp, about 7 minutes. Using tongs, turn the legs over and brown the other sides, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the duck to a deep platter. Pour off all but about 1 Tbs. of the rendered fat and discard or save for another use.

Reduce the heat to medium low. Put the celery, garlic, onion, carrot, sage, and bay leaf in the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, 7 to 8 minutes.
 

Pour in the wine and increase the heat to high. Cook at a lively simmer for 1 minute and then reduce the heat to medium. Stir in the tomatoes with their juice and 1/2 cup of the broth. Return the duck to the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and simmer until the meat is fork-tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Remove the duck from the pot and set aside until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, skim the excess fat from the top of the sauce with a large spoon. If the sauce seems thin, continue simmering until flavorful and thickened to a saucy consistency.

Discard the duck skin and shred the meat. Add the shredded meat to the sauce, along with the other 1/2 cup of broth if the sauce seems too thick. Let the sauce simmer gently for 15 minutes; discard the garlic and bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Cook the pasta and serve

When ready to serve, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta until al dente—you want it to still have some bite because it will continue to cook a bit while you’re tossing it with the ragù. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water and then drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot and toss it with some of the ragù, adding a little cooking water if it seems dry. Serve the pasta with more ragù spooned over the top, garnished with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you like.

Make Ahead Tips

The ragù can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before tossing with pasta.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 220; Fat (g): fat g 6; Fat Calories (kcal): 60; Saturated Fat (g): sat fat g 1; Protein (g): protein g 20; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 3.5; Carbohydrates (g): carbs g 14; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1; Sodium (mg): sodium mg 540; Cholesterol (mg): cholesterol mg 65; Fiber (g): fiber g 3;

Photo: Scott Phillips

My son made this pasta for us (he's 22 and not a chef). We followed the recipe with a few exceptions. First, we had an abundance of wild duck breasts which we substituted for the legs and thighs. We first let them soak overnight in 2% milk (I think any kind of milk would be sufficient...just what we had on hand). The next morning, we made a simple brine of kosher salt and sugar,...about a quart of water and 1/4 cup salt and 1/8 cup sugar. We then washed the duck and then put them in the brine for the entire day. He prepared the recipe as written. My son used diced tomatoes and I think for me, I would use crushed in the future. No matter. This was one of the best Italian recipes we've ever made. Splendid and easily in the top 5 of our keeper Italian recipes. The next day, I brought the sauce to work and shared with 8 coworkers. 5 wanted the recipe!

We made this once before and are making it again today. It truly is a LOVELY dish, and a fantastic use for duck. Also, seriously people, the Fine Cooking comment section is hardly the place to fluff your egos. Ye gods.

It is good but not great. Earthy, silky comfort food. I would add some crushed red pepper next time. I would make again, if I find more duck legs in the 50% off bin !!

The overall concept/execution of this dish is good however the taste was very bland. I will probably never make this again unless I can find a similar recipe with better flavoring. It seemed as though it needed some kind of acid in it too. I tried squeezing some lemon over it which helped a little, just not enough. Frankly, I was embarrassed in front of my dinner guests as this was not all it was hyped up to be. Also, if you are going to be using dried pasta you only need half a pound not a whole. And will someone please tell me what is up with the recipes on this website that say "finely chopped"? Rough chop, chop, diced, finely diced, minced, those are the common terms used in this country, NOT "finely chopped". The company is in Connecticut not some foreign county so why are they using terms that are so wonky for cooking in the US? Also, there is no such thing as "chopped canned tomatoes", it is DICED.

My family loves this dish! I've made it several times, the most recent being this past weekend for my five-year old's birthday dinner. It was her request! I actually used a whole duck (I just asked the butcher to cut it up for me) since there weren't enough leg/thigh combos. Your house will smell amazingly delicious--even the next day! This is one of our all-time favorite F.C. recipes. Thank you!

First, I'd like to start off; stevenmikramer, you're an idiot! I did make this recipe and it was fabulous. I had always wanted to make duck ragu and this recipe, while time consuming, is well worth the effort.

I did make the recipe exactly, and it certainly deserves my five stars rating: everything about this dish shows just how good Italian cooking can be. The duck meat was extremely tender and the sauce was full of flavour, without being overwhelming. We were lucky to have good quality duck legs at our local grocery store. The parpadelle was just the right pasta to go with this dish. And did I mention the aroma while the sauce was cooking? Yum...

To reviewer stevenmikramer: I gave the recipe four stars because I *did* make it and thought that was a fair rating from my experience. I berated the other reviewer because he/she rated it without actually making the recipe. And now you've done the same thing, just to show us how smart, sophisticated and sarcastic you are. "It DOES look like a good recipe, though." Totally unhelpful and idiotic.

Cool! A metaphysics problem. seedyonenyc gives it 5 stars without having actually made the the recipe. Then tatwood gives it 4 stars so he can complain about seedyonenyc's stupidity in giving it 5 stars when seedyonenyc hasn't actually made it. And now I, since the only way I could get this posted was to rate the recipe, give it 1 star to neutralize seedyonenyc and tatwood. It DOES look like a good recipe, though.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Lamb Abruzzese Ragu, I was compiling my ingredients list for this version & noticed 1 Medium Carrot, chopped fine was missing from the list for the mirepoix, but mentioned in the directions. A quick verification with the print version proved this out, so may I suggest, to fully enjoy this dish the adjustment be made. My rating is in anticipation of a similar outstanding result.

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