Last night’s dinner conversation:
“Wow, tastes so much better than it looks.
“Well, how could it taste worse than how it looks?”
“Yeah, it sorta looks like….”
“Don’t say it! I’m still eating!”
And that got me to thinking, not just about how appearances can be if not deceiving then at least woefully incomplete, but also taste as well. You see, I’ve never liked the taste of celery. Actually, I can barely stand the smell which is too sharply astringent and chlorophyll-y for my tastes. Needless to say, once I realized that many of the dishes I enjoy actually have a base of celery in them, my relegating it to pariah-ingredient-optional status seemed silly and dare I say prejudiced? So what tastes nummy but you could swear there’s nary a rib of celery in it? Jambalaya, chicken stock, osso buco, and apparently ragù too just to name a few.
When diced and mixed in a 1:1:2 ratio with carrots, and onion you have a classical French mirepoix. Incidentally, this got its name from a French duke whose main claim to fame was, uh, lending his name to a culinary aromatic mixture that gives that extra oomph to stocks and sauces. Seriously. All using a stringy, astringent stick that is only palatable raw when slathered with peanut butter and dotted with raisins (oh, ants-on-a-stick, whichever exasperated Mom invented you I salute you ;)) and is magically transformed with a little sautéing among friends. So while “if it smells good it tastes good” usually holds true, that doesn’t mean that the reverse is false in all circumstances, right? And why sneak in the summer squash? Besides the nutritional benefits of fiber and lots-o-vitamins (A, B6, and C), I do it because I can! Adding texture and nutritional perks with no significant change in flavor? Sign me up.
Although this recipe may not be fast in terms of total time, it’s actually pretty easy. Dice, sauté, then braise quietly while doing all that multitasking you do so well. While pork roast or shoulder will work equally as well for this dish, the bones from the ribs add to the hearty flavor just as using bones in your soup stock lends all that marrow-y goodness. And the fact that it tastes even better the next day when the flavors have had time to meld means if a certain someone forgets to pack their lunch bento it may magically disappear by the time they get home tonight! [yoink!]
1 strip bacon, diced
1 lb country-style pork ribs, excess fat trimmed off (I used short pork ribs but pork roast or pork shoulder will also work)
1/2 c red wine, I like something spicy like Shiraz but any full bodied red will do
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 tsp (2 gloves) crushed garlic
3 c cherry tomatoes (or you can substitute with all of the following: 2 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, 1 tsp cider vinegar, and 1 tsp tomato paste)
1 c summer squash, peeled and diced
1 c low-salt chicken broth
1/2 tbsp fresh (1/2 tsp dried) thyme, minced
1/4 tbsp fresh oregano (1/4 tsp dried) oregano, minced
1 tsp salt
Brown bacon in a 3 1/2 quart pot or Dutch oven over med-hi heat ~ 1 minute. Season pork ribs with salt and pepper then lay out in a single layer in pot with bacon. Brown ribs so they get a golden crust in bacon fat for 2 minutes by leaving them in place while they sear. This is a perfect time to slurp down some of your favorite cocktail while slaving over a hot stove ;). Flip over the ribs and sear on the other side for another 2 minutes. [slurp!]
Deglaze pot with red wine and then add the mirepoix (celery, onions, and carrots) mixing it in with the ribs. Sauté mirepoix for 1-2 minutes allowing the veggies to soften and release their juices.** Add tomatoes and squash and sauté for another 2 minutes.
Add garlic, broth, thyme, oregano, and salt and stir to mix. If there is not enough liquid to cover the ribs, add enough water to cover then cover pot with lid and lower heat to low. Braise ribs for 2-3 hours till falling off the bone. Alternatively, you can also put your oven-safe pot or Dutch oven in a 300-325F oven for 2 hours and braise it that way. Using a slotted spoon, remove ribs from the pot and set aside in a bowl. Reduce ragù over med-hi heat till it becomes a thick stew ~15-20 minutes. Once ribs are cool enough to handle ~5 minutes, remove bones and discard bones. Shred any large chunks and return meat to ragù. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Makes 4-6 servings. I like to serve this with risotto but it also pairs well with polenta or pasta (like egg noodles or pappardelle).
**If you’re using a slow cooker, this would be when you would transfer everything in the pot, add the remaining ingredients into the slow cooker, and cook on medium heat for 4-6 hours (however long it takes your slow cooker to get meat falling off the bone).