Sunday Dinner: Tuscan Ribs, Herbed Potatoes & Buttermilk Panna Cotta

When we last visited Silka’s family in Wellsville, her mother Tina suggested we invite some friends over for a rib party. After an affirmative squeal of excitement from the two of us, she pulled out six racks of spare ribs from a local farmer and we quickly hit the books looking for the perfect recipe. Rather than do the usual Southern-style barbecue, we wanted to try something a little different. Looking at Amanda Hesser’s New York Times cookbook - a now indispensable resource for us - we found a beautiful recipe for Tuscan-style pork ribs.

On Saturday morning we gathered in the kitchen to mince Tina's home-grown garlic and chop rosemary sprigs from the plant which healthily grows, absurdly large, in the living room. We coated the ribs with a basic rub and let them marinate overnight. When Sunday afternoon rolled around, Tina made a simple tomato sauce using ingredients almost exclusively from her garden and popped the ribs into the oven for a long and slow cook. Then we cut up some potatoes to roast, and toasted the amazing smells wafting out of the kitchen while waiting for our guests to arrive.

Needless to say, the ribs came out perfectly. The falling-off-the-bone meat was infused with the piney taste of the rosemary and the sharp bite of garlic, while the tomato sauce was a beautifully sweet counterpoint. In addition to the herb-roasted potatoes, Tina laid out some locally-made sauerkraut which helped to cut the heaviness of the meal. And then as we tried to recover from the meal, Tina surprised us with her new favorite dessert: buttermilk Panna cotta topped with Diane’s homemade strawberry sauce. What a meal!

Tuscan-Style Pork Spare Ribs
From The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser

+ 3 tablespoons minced garlic, plus 2 cloves garlic, sliced
+ 3 tablespoons finely chopped sage
+ 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
+ 1 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt, plus more to taste
+ 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
+ 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
+ 7 pounds pork spareribs
+ 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
+ Two 28-ounce cans tomatoes, with their juice
+ 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
+ 1 1/2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
+ 2 1/2 cups water
+ 1 cup dry white wine

1. Combine the minced garlic, sage, rosemary, salt, black pepper, and 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper in a small bowl. Put the spareribs on a baking sheet and rub well with the spice mixture. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
2. Heat the oven to 375°F. Arrange the ribs in a 12 x 16-inch roasting pan (use 2 pans if necessary) and roast uncovered for 1 hour, or until browned.
3. Turn the ribs over and roast for another hour. If drippings in the bottom of the pan begin to burn, add a small amount of water or olive oil.
4. Meanwhile, pour the olive oil into a large saucepan, add the sliced garlic and remaining tablespoon of crushed red pepper, and sauté over medium heat until the garlic begins to color. Add the tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and 1 1/2 cups water; season with salt, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. As the tomatoes soften, break them up with a whisk and stir. Simmer the sauce, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning, and remove from the heat.
5. When the ribs have browned on both sides, pour the wine, remaining 1 cup water, and the tomato sauce over them. (If you’ve used 2 pans to roast the ribs, combine them all in one pan now.) Cover the pan with foil and roast for 40 minutes.
6. Remove the foil, skim off the excess fat, and roast uncovered for 20 minutes more. Cut into 4-rib sections and serve.

Serves 6.

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