Growing up, the only ribs I ever had were those my Neapolitan aunt would make in tomato sauce. She used to brown them in olive oil and then slowly simmer them in a large pot of sauce, which sometimes contained cotenne, or pig-skin braciole. Yum! It was pork at its best.
In my own kitchen, I still use my aunt’s recipe as well as others, all of which are tomato-sauce based. But recently, when my husband presented me with a small rack of ribs that he found on sale, I thought I would try something new. It was dish I found on Diane Darrow’s blog, Another Year in Recipes, which had Roman origins and used only three primary ingredients—and no tomatoes.
The recipe comes from Oretta Zanni de Vita’s cookbook, Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds, an insightful examination of Roman food lore as well as a rich trove of authentic recipes. The dish, “Pork Ribs with Garlic and Rosemary,” exemplifies a style of Italian peasant cooking, cucina povera, which used what Romans once called quinto quarto cuts, or the “fifth quarter.” As Darrow explains in her post on this recipe, this was “what was left after the clergy got the first quarter of the animal, the nobility got the second, the wealthy burghers the third, and the army the fourth. That left the head, feet, tail and innards, which were prepared in many ingenious ways to make them palatable.”
What initially attracted me to this dish was its use of so few ingredients: garlic, rosemary, white wine, along with olive oil, salt and black pepper. Minimal prep work and stress-free cooking also weighed in on my deciding to make it for a weeknight supper. The superlative results, however, more than confirmed my decision to prepare these ribs.
They were tender and juicy, meat falling off the bone. Full of forward meaty flavor, enhanced by rosemary essence and subtle hints of garlic, all brightened with a finishing touch of salt, these ribs brought us back to Rome and the Testaccio, once home to the city’s huge municipal slaughterhouse, active from 1891 to 1975, and now home to some of its finest restaurants.
I modified the book’s recipe following Darrow’s recommendation on covering the ribs after adding the wine and her advice on cooking time. My ribs, however, required a little more time than hers to become tender. I also used a tad more garlic than the recipe called for.
Pork Ribs with Garlic and Rosemary, Costarelle di Maiale Burina (adapted from a recipe by Oretta Zanni de Vita in Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 spring of rosemary, needles removed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ¾ to 2 pounds meaty pork ribs
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 ½ cup of wine, divided
1. In a mini food processor, finely chop the garlic and rosemary petals together with plenty of black pepper.
2. Rub the ribs with 1 tablespoon of the oil and then with the garlic mixture and place in a small bowl.
3. Drizzle with one cup of the wine and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Be careful not to let the wine wash the rub off the ribs.
4. Remove the ribs from the marinade, reserving the marinade, and pat them dry.
5. In a heavy skillet, over high heat, heat the remaining olive and brown the pork. Start with meat side down.
6. Slowly add the reserved marinade, a little at a time, followed by the remaining ½ cup of wine.
7. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to low, and finish cooking, turning occasionally, until the pork is tender. (About 30 to 45 minutes.)
8. Season with salt at the end of cooking.
9. Serve on heated plates.
Wine Pairing: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Frascati