Veal cheeks can be hard to find; you can substitute with beef cheeks, which you might have to special order anyway from your butcher. In a pinch, use short ribs. I begin this ragu with guanciale, another hard-to-find ingredient, which can be substituted for with thick-cut pancetta or bacon. The guanciale, if you can find it, is nice because it retains its luscious mouthfeel, and nice added richness to this meaty sauce. It's from the jowl (cheek), not the belly, of the pig. Veal or beef cheeks are also delicious on their own; I made a pasta sauce here to make my 1lb cheek feed 4. As with any slow braise, this is best prepared the day before. If you must make it the day of, start early, as the meat cooks for a few hours, and then needs to cool to be shredded.
1.25lb veal cheek (trimmed weight, 1lb)
.7oz (20g) dried morel mushrooms
5 medium onions
2 large carrots
3 large cloves garlic
1 6oz can tomato paste
1T harissa paste (optional-- you can use chili flakes instead)
1 bottle dry red wine
about 4c beef broth (I used leftover broth from making beef tongue)
1T herbes de provence
1/2c heavy cream
fresh pappardelle pasta (I used a mix of porcini & black pepper rosemary)
Rinse dry morels and place in bowl. Cover with hot water and set aside to soak.
Peel onions and set aside. Cut guanciale into pieces about 1cm wide and 3cm long.
Heat a large heavy pot over medium heat and cook guanciale. When it starts to brown slightly, lower heat and continue to cook until light brown and swimming in rendered fat.
In the meantime, trim cheek(s) of fat and silverskin. Season with salt and pepper. Remove guanciale with a slotted spoon. Raise heat to medium-high. Brown cheek on both sides. Remove and set aside.
While cheek is browning, slice onions and drain morels, reserving liquid.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Add onions to the pot where the guanciale and cheek were. As the onions absorb the fat, chop carrots and crush and slice garlic and add them too. Cook on medium to low heat, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, until onions are very very soft.
Push onions to the side and add tomato paste and harissa. Let brown slightly, about 1 minute, then mix with onions. Stir to combine, about 1 minute. Add wine. Raise heat and boil until reduced by half. You should have a thick, luscious goo of tomato, wine, and onion, with the occasional carrot peaking through.
Add strained morel soaking liquid and continue to cook until the mixture is so thick that your wooden spatula can make trails in it.
Add morels, guanciale, veal cheek, any accumulated juices, and herbes de provence to pot. Add beef broth and water, if necessary, to cover cheek. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and put in the oven.
Cook for about 3 hours, testing after 2. The meat should pierce easily with a small knife.
Cool the meat in enough sauce to cover. The next day, skim fat; remove meat and shred. Reduce the rest of the sauce to desired thickness, skimming the orange foam that rises to the top. Return meat to pot. Reheat. Stir in cream. Simmer 5 more minutes to develop flavors.
Serve sauce on pasta with a sprinkle of parmesan. Unfortunately, we forgot the cream, so yours should look a little paler than this picture.