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March 10th,
2011
written by Loren

I never liked Italian food growing up, which caused friction with my brother Allen who I think would have been content to eat Spaghetti every single night. As my palate has matured I have realize that I didn’t dislike Italian food, I disliked poor impersonations of Italian food. What I mean by that is mushy spaghetti, topped with canned tomato sauce, and maybe some overcooked and unseasoned ground beef. Yuck

This is the crap I'm talking about...

. But properly done Italian food? Fantastic. I especially like the recipes which bubble away for hours, letting the flavors mingle and making your kitchen smell so damn good that you can’t resist stealing some of the food before it’s done.

The basis of this recipe came from my America’s Test Kitchen cookbook. Btw, if you are unaware of the ATK cookbooks/TV show or Cook’s Illustrated magazine, you should really check them out. It’s a wonderful organization. They test endless variations of each recipe they publish to find the very best methods, and they also test kitchen equipment and common ingredients to tell you the best ones to buy. Anyways, in this particular instance I thought their recipe was a bit too simple, so I added a few things to make it more interesting. You will need:

  • 1.5-2 lbs of beef short ribs or pork bone-in country ribs
  • 1 tbsp light olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 28 oz. of canned diced tomatoes (look for Muir Glen Organic. They won the ATK taste test of canned diced tomatoes.)
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, minced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed (you want these left whole, so you can take them out after stewing)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lb of pasta (the book recommends tubular pasta like a rigatoni or penne)

Pat the ribs dry, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown the ribs, about 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of the fat in the skillet (I poured it all out and replaced it with some bacon fat from the fridge. I think it added a nice smoky background flavor.) Add the onion and shallot to the skillet and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and simmer, scraping up any browned bits, until the wine has reduced to a glaze, about 2 minutes.

This is another spot where I differed from the recipe, either because I didn’t have the right size pan or because I leaned more towards the 2lb range in terms of meat. Either way, instead of returning the meat to the skillet, I transferred the meat and wine/aromatics to a large pot, about the size of a dutch oven. ┬áDon’t forget to add any juices which might have come out from the meat while it was resting; that’s good flavor. Then add in the tomatoes and juice, plus the garlic cloves, bay leaf and oregano. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently for 1.5 to 2 hours, turning the ribs occasionally until the meat is tender and falling apart. That is the real test of done-ness, when I made this I let it go for 2.5 hours and the meat was shreddable but still just a bit tougher than I would have liked.

Right before the cover goes on.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the sauce and let cool. Shred the meat and discard the bones and any chunks of fat you find. You’ll also want to remove the garlic cloves and bay leaf. Return the shredded meat to the sauce and continue to simmer over medium heat for another 5 minutes or so to re-heat the ribs and thicken the sauce a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When tossing with pasta, add some of the pasta water if the sauce needs to be thinned out a bit. For a garnish, I shredded some parmesan and sprinkled some chiffonaded basil leaves, but really this can stand on its own. One last note: to get a gentle simmer (1-2 bubbles per second as the book describes it) I had to turn my stove down as low as it could go, until the flame was almost turned off. So it might take some fiddling to get the heat just right.

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2 Comments

  1. Arthur
    03/12/2011

    Great post man!

    ATK is awesome. Meg and I just call their cookbook the “red book”. (But I “the bible” would work as well.) I think this was actually one of the first things that she made from the book over this last summer. The ragu is so so good! I don’t have it in front of me to do a comparison to see what you added to the recipe, but I’m excited to try your updated version.

    A few times we’ve made it we started early in the day and just let it simmer away for hours (aprox. 4+). The meat was literally fall of the bone and practically shredded itself.

    On a final note, I always find the gentle simmer to be a big challenge. For what ever reason it seems easier on Meg’s WWII era stove (no joke on the age) than the stove at my place. Maybe in your cooking burner troubles gave the meat some overly high heat that made it toughen-up.

  2. Loren
    03/12/2011

    I added the garlic, shallots, oregano and bay leaf. I wanted to add some interesting flavors but nothing that would stand out too much in the final product, just add some nuances.

    The red book suggests maybe using a ring of aluminum foil to raise the pan off the burner, I might try that next time. Or I might just increase the time frame to the 4 hour range you guys have tried.

    Next post: tomato/basil/bacon mussels!

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