A simpler approach to her pork and beans that doesn’t skimp on flavor—just fuss.
Like many cooks, I am a huge fan of Marcella Hazan. The Italian cookbook author is well-known for iconic recipes like her classic ragù and her three-ingredient tomato sauce, but it’s one of her lesser-known recipes that I love the most: pork balls with beans and tomato, from her 1997 book, Marcella Cucina. The recipe is a labor of love and involves making tiny meatballs scented with sage and garlic that are gently cooked in tomato sauce and served with creamy cranberry beans. While this recipe will remain a favorite, it’s a lot of work, and therefore I tend to save it for special occasions.
For a simpler version, I turn to my Instant Pot. I’ve pared the recipe down to its essential elements by cutting out its more laborious aspects while keeping the spirit of the dish: the rich pork simmered with tomatoes and sage. Instead of making meatballs, I use a single cut of pork shoulder that gets pressure-cooked until it’s fall-apart tender and shreddy. The pork is cooked in a simple tomato sauce bolstered by a bundle of sage and a Parmesan rind. I always stash my leftover Parmesan rinds in the freezer to use for occasions like this—just one rind adds intense umami flavor. The sauce also gets a boost from the meat itself; the juices from the pork add irresistible richness and tame some of the tomatoes’ acidity.
Canned cranberry beans are hard to come by, so I add canned cannellini or navy beans to the sauce while the pork is shredded to cut down on soaking and cooking time. The beans make this a hearty, almost stew-like meal that can feed at least four people with a smaller cut of meat. Serving this dish with polenta or pasta will stretch it even further, though you need nothing more than a hunk of crusty buttered bread to soak up all the rich juices.
By now we all know that the Instant Pot, while wildly useful, is by no means “instant” in any sense of the word. The pork still takes about an hour of cooking at high pressure to become delectably soft and shreddable, not to mention the time it takes the machine to come up to pressure first. The advantage of this recipe lies in its hands-off approach—no tiny meatballs, no extra dishes, no stirring, and only one pot. I’d like to think Marcella would agree that it’s just as comforting as the original.