Recipe: Italian Country Pork Ribs

Italian country pork rib braise and recipe
By far, hands-down, my favorite recipe of all time is Italian country pork ribs braised in red wine with orange peel. I got it from Lidia Bastianich, who has multiple variations on this recipe herself. The version she narrates in one of her PBS television cooking shows differs from what's in her cook books. 

It's a braising recipe, entirely tinkerable, so I don't mind the inconsistency. The orange peel makes it. Don't leave it out. The smell when they cook is mind-blowing.

The hardest part of this recipe is finding country-style ribs. Not everyone calls them the same thing, and few butchers sell them already cut. You need to find a butcher willing to make this special cut for you, in most cases. Country-style ribs are a cut of the shoulder or "butt" (named for the butt barrels in which they used to be stored, not "butt" as in gluteus maximus) that have very small rib bones at one end. The rest of the cut should be quite meaty. Again, not all butchers will know what the hell you're talking about if you ask them to cut you country style ribs, so hold out until you find someone who knows.

Lidia Bastianich's Italian Country Pork Ribs (with red wine and orange peel)
Yield: a lot of fucking food. Like, easily dinner for 4-6, and leftovers for 4.

Note: I usually cut this recipe in half and make it in a 5.5 quart Le Cruset oven, and it barely fits. If making the full recipe, you'll need a significantly sized pot, or two 5.5 quart Dutch ovens.

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms, steeped in water (reserve the water)
6 lbs country style pork ribs, in one or two slabs (not cut to individual ribs)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup minced bacon or pancetta
2 large onions, diced
1 1/2 cups carrot, grated

1 bottle dry red wine
3-4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 cups crushed tomatoes *in some versions of the recipe, the crushed tomatoes are omitted

2 springs rosemary
4 bay leaves
6 whole cloves (no big deal if you leave these out; I don't always care for them)
1 orange peel, pith removed

The short directions: Braise for 3 hours.

The long directions:
Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and let them come to room temperature, 30 to 60 minutes. Salt and pepper them liberally.

Meanwhile, steep the poricini mushrooms in about a cup of scalding water. Set the chicken stock on another burner to keep it just below boiling.

Preheat the oven to 275F.

Heat a Dutch oven over a medium flame. Add some of the oil and brown the surface area of the ribs.

Remove the ribs to a platter and set aside. Lower the heat significantly.

Add the bacon or pancetta to the pot. Add more oil as needed, and then add the onions and carrots. Cook on low heat until the onions sweat out. 

Make a well in the pot by pushing the ingredients to the side so you can "toast" the tomato paste
and let it caramelize a bit in the pot. Once the tomato paste has browned a little, toss it together to coat the other ingredients. 

Raise the heat to medium-high for two minutes. If using crushed tomatoes, add them now.

Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid. If there is any sand or grit that has settled to the bottom of the mushroom water, or "tea," try to leave it behind. You don't want to eat it.

Deglaze the pot using the mushroom tea. Keep the heat high. Now deglaze using about half the wine. Bring the whole thing nearly to a boil.

Add about half the chicken stock. Gently place the ribs into the pot, nestling them well into the liquid. Add more wine and chicken stock to practically over the ribs, though it's fine if some of the pieces stick out a little. 
Add the herbs and other aromatics, being careful with the orange peel.

Cover the pot and move it to the oven. (You can cook the whole thing on the stove top if you prefer, but keep the flame very low.) Let it braise for one hour, then turn the ribs, and check the level of the liquid, adding more chicken stock to cover as needed. Cover tightly and return to the oven. Let them braise for a total of 3 hours.

It's best to let the ribs sit over night, and then reheat them before serving. Be sure to fish out and discard the orange peel, rosemary twigs, and cloves if you see them. Cut gently into ribs and serve on a platter with some sauce slathered on top. This dish is excellent with skillet cauliflower (olive oil, bread crumb, garlic), and make sure to tell your guests there will be some bones.

Save leftovers to shred with rigatoni. The sauce becomes thicker on the second  and third days.