I fell in love with rich, hearty Italian cuisine at Michael White’s Osteria Morini in Soho, NYC in 2010, but it wasn’t until I tried the much simper, more ingredient driven, insanely delicious food at Roberta’s in Bushwick a couple years later that I realized I needed to find that perfect balance between elegance and richness for the way I’d try cooking Italian food at home.
Roberta’s Cookbook is one of the first books that I’d recommend to anyone. It captures the ingredient-first, creative, beautiful, yet still somewhat traditional harmony that is modern Italian cuisine.
The great news for the home cook is that when a dish is based on a few high quality ingredients and a little bit of technique, the mystique of the Italian grandma’s grandma’s secret recipe gets thrown to the side, and hearty, old school Italian red sauces like this one is based on become lifted in flavor, accessible and fun to cook.
This dish is something I made up on the fly while staying at a (well-stocked) AirBnB in Mendocino, CA…it represents the intersection of Osteria Morini’s traditional flavors and Roberta’s respect of local ingredients and ingenuity. This will take 3-4 hours to prepare and cook but mostly passive time…so good for a lazy Sunday where you can take a peek at it every 30 mins or so.
(serves 2-3…easy to scale ingredients larger but make sure you have a big enough pot)
- 2 lbs bone-in English-cut short ribs, cut into 2 inch sections if possible, but any length of thick-cut sections of short rib will do
- 1 28 oz. can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes (look for Italian San Marzano DOP if possible, but a lot of domestically grown versions are equally good IMO)
- 4-5 cloves peeled garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 whole carrot, halved lengthwise and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 0.5-1.5 tsp red chile flakes depending on taste and potency of chile flakes
- 0.75 lb high quality dry rigatoni (or other tube-like pasta)
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary (optional)
- 1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Olive oil
- Chopped parsley and grated parmesan (for serving)
- Transfer canned tomatoes and their juices to a large bowl and break up with your hands (I like to do this in the sink in case they get messy). Sometimes the top stem end of the canned tomatoes can be a bit under ripe, so if you see any yellow or green parts right near the stem end, I usually try to just rip that part off and toss it.
- Chop onion and garlic and set aside
- Have a glass of red wine (I’d recommend a cheap Sangiovese).
- Generously season all sides of the short ribs with salt and pepper. Coat a dutch oven or thick-bottomed sauce pan (wide enough to hold all the short ribs at once) with oil, and heat over medium-high heat until oil is shimmering. Add short ribs and brown on all sides…about 2 minutes per side
- Remove short ribs to a bowl or rimmed plate, add a little more oil to the dutch oven, then add the onion and a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally for about 4 minutes while the onions sweat and become translucent. Add the garlic and some red chile flakes (you can always add more later to adjust up the heat), keep stirring for another 2 minutes, and watch for the garlic getting too brown.
- Pour in about half a cup of that $12 Sangiovese you opened earlier and stir quickly to deglaze all the bits left from the short rib. Then quickly add the tomatoes and their juices, let boil for a minute and then reduce to a simmer
- Return the short ribs and their juices to the pot, then the carrots (which are in large chunks because you just want their flavor….they will be removed from final sauce) then the herbs (same reasoning….so if you have string or twine, you can tie the sprigs together for easy removal)
- Turn heat to super low and let cook, completely or mostly covered for anywhere between 2.5 and 3.5 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. You want a slow gentle simmer as much as possible so nothing gets burned onto the bottom.
- Hopefully you’re on your 2nd or 3rd bottle of wine by now
- By this point, the short rib should be almost falling off the bone, so go ahead and remove it, let it cool, then shred it finely with your hands, trying to remove any of the slippery chewy connective tissue that remains
- In the meantime, remove the carrots and herbs, then use a potato masher to reduce any chunks of tomato that still exist…you want a slightly textured but well-integrated sauce. Taste the sauce and adjust for a little more chile flake if it needs more heat.
- Return the shredded short rib to the sauce and stir, either on extremely low or no heat but covered….you want all the flavors and textures to sit together.
- Prepare your pasta….generously salt a pot of water, bring to a boil, and cook rigatoni according to instructions. Probably about 12 minutes.
- This is where timing is everything….when pasta feels like its a few minutes away from done, heat a wide sauté pan over medium heat with a little olive oil and a few scoops of your beautiful sugo that’s been resting on the back burner.
- Before you drain your pasta (which should be about a minute shy of al dente), use a measuring cup to scoop out some pasta water. This will help the sauce and the the pasta adhere better.
- Drain pasta, then add to sauté pan, shaking, tossing and stirring vigorously over medium-high heat. Add some of the reserved pasta water bit by bit until you see a real cohesive sauce form (this will also finish cooking the pasta to all dente).
- Serve immediately in a couple bowls (pro trick — heat the bowls in oven at 200 for like 1 min before serving), garnish with plenty of parmesan (for flavor) and parsley (for a bit of color).