Courtesy of our trumpet Player Adam Zinatelli
In the spirit of the CPO’s Festival Italiano, here’s my recipe for a tomato sauce that would make my grandmother proud. All I can say about this is that it’s totally worth it.
Zinatelli’s Special Sauce
4 racks pork side ribs, (aka St. Louis ribs. Back ribs work too, but side ribs are cheaper and work just as well here. If you can’t get your hands on ribs at the moment, use a pork shoulder cut up into medium sized pieces, ask your butcher to do it quickly on the bandsaw for you)
6 medium onions, diced
Hot peppers, minced fresh or dried.
6 bay leaves
A head of garlic, minced or put through a press
6 anchovy fillets, minced (I usually just use a fork to mash them to a paste)
6 small cans tomato paste
2/3 bottle inexpensive red wine
6 28 oz cans of whole tomatoes, San Marzano type if possible, pureed. It’s very important to buy canned whole tomatoes and puree them yourself with an immersion blender or something, not to buy canned pureed tomatoes.
1. Pat the ribs dry, and slice each rack in half or thirds, so you’ll be able to stir the pot later. In a very large pot (I use a 16 quart stockpot), or a large skillet to start if your pot is too deep to easily sear things in, over medium-high heat put a little oil and sear the ribs as best you can, it’s tricky because they’re curved. This will probably take one batch per rack of ribs, so take care not to burn the fond. Deglaze with red wine if you need to in between batches, saving the now porky wine. Set seared ribs aside.
2. In the pan you just seared in, over medium heat, put some olive oil, onions, salt, pepper, hot pepper, oregano, and bay leaves. Stirring frequently, get them soft and sweet, not browned. Make sure to get all the delicious porky bits off the pan and into the onions. Let them go a little longer than you think, probably about 10-15 minutes. If you’re doing the first stage in a skillet, now is the time to transfer to your stockpot, making sure to get all the tasty bits off the bottom of the pan.
3. Add garlic and anchovies, stir for about 30 seconds.
4. When garlic and anchovies are fragrant add tomato paste. Stirring frequently, cook for 3 minutes or so, until everything is hot and homogenous.
5. Increase to high heat, stirring frequently to avoid burning. When pan is hot, add the wine and stir while it cooks down, about 3 minutes.
6. Reduce heat to medium, or maybe a little higher, and add the tomatoes. Stir to incorporate everything in there. Add the ribs back to the pot, making sure they are completely submerged in the tomatoes.
7. Gently bring the covered pot to a simmer, stirring ever few minutes, this might take 20 minutes or so. Don’t crank the heat, you really don’t want the bottom to burn.
8. When the bubbles are coming to the top reasonably frequently and in a few places, reduce to very low heat. Use a flame-tamer or trivet if you need to.
9. Cover, and simmer for a very long time on very low heat, stirring every once in a while. The heat should be so low there’s no real risk of burning. You’ll need at least six or seven hours, do it for as long as possible. In an ideal situation, get up at very early in the morning, start the sauce (it’s about an hour’s work to get all set), have some for dinner, then turn the heat off when you go to bed. Let it cool in the pot overnight, then pack it up and freeze most of it the next day. But I digress.
10. The ribs will probably hold together for 5 or 6 hours, but after that they’ll start just falling apart when you stir. It should get to the point where the meat and bones separate just from stirring, and you’ll have loose bones floating around.
11.When it’s time to start thinking about getting dinner ready, use a slotted spoon or frying spider or something to fish out all the meat, bones, and bay leaves into a large bowl. Discard the bay leaves. On a large work surface, take a cup or two of the ribs at a time and separate the meat from the bones, and using two forks shred it, just like pulled pork. Put the meat back in the pot and stir, discard the bones.
12. Keep the pot simmering as long as possible. When it’s time to eat, cook either a dried short pasta like rigatoni, or a broad fresh egg pasta like pappardelle, and never (never!) rinse the cooked pasta. Sauce the pasta less than you think, as North Americans always put too much sauce on pasta, and grate in some top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano. Enjoy! And keep simmering the pot until bedtime.