"I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of food; with singing lips my mouth will praise you." Psalm 63:5
A Sunday supper is the perfect way to round out the weekend. A good time to cook for friends and family. For me entertaining at home is a yearning for intimacy and comfort-and to share those pleasures with others. Usually it has the added advantage of time-to lay the table just as you would have it and cook in a way less hurried. And, of course, the pace of the meal itself can be slower and altogether more enjoyable. To my mind a Sunday supper can be served at lunch, just after or later in the day, just as the afternoon light is beginning to fade. It’s most definitely a time to relax in the warm glow and linger with your elbows on the table, reflecting that life is good after all.
This short rib ragu is what I call Sunday Sauce. It is one of those sauces that an Italian Grandma would make for her household. It is a dish in which everything is thrown into a pot and then allowed to blip and putter slowly on the stove, so that the flavors have a chance to mellow and deepen. I wish I could say that my Grandma made this sauce, or anything like it, but she was neither Italian, nor a very good cook. But in her defense, an amazing pie baker, there are none that could come close.
This Sunday Sauce is traditionally more suited for the cooler months, but I am just brazen enough to defy the norm. Because you see, right now tomatoes are at their peak and they are what give this dish an added depth of flavor as well as sweetness. Of course, canned tomatoes (specifically San Marzano) can be substituted, but nothing can quite compare to a perfectly ripe tomato in all its glory.
The star of this dish is the short ribs. They are tucked into a deep cast iron pot with earthy spices, sweet onions and tomatoes then left alone to cook long and slow. This gives you meat that is broken down until its soft, spoon-able and falls completely off the bone. As good as the richly flavored meat is, it’s the sauce with the fresh tomatoes that have turned into a sticky, sweet jam-like consistency that make you come back for more. Usually I brown the short ribs first before adding them. This gives a lovely depth of flavor. But recently I was in a hurry to get everything going so I just threw them in without browning them off. Amazingly, after cooking for about 6 hours they were fall off the bone tender and the sauce was deliciously rich. In the recipe below I put in the directions for browning off the ribs, but feel free to do as I did as well. Especially if you can have them cook down for an extended length of time. -s
2-3 lb. beef short ribs (bone-in)
¼ cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion (peeled, finely diced)
6 cloves garlic, (peeled, sliced)
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 lb. fresh vine ripened tomatoes (or 2- 28 oz. cans San Marzano tomatoes)
1 cup dry white wine
1 bouquet garni (a mix of fresh oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and bay)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb. strozzapreti pasta (or large rigatoni, or penne)
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Parmesan (freshly grated, to serve)
This step is necessary only if your using fresh tomatoes. Bring a large pot of water to boil. With the tip of a sharp knife make an X on the bottom of each tomato. When the water comes to a boil, carefully place a few tomatoes into the boiling water and let cook for 30 seconds until the skin starts to peel. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a sheet tray. Continue with the rest of the tomatoes. When cool enough to handle, peel the tomatoes. The skins should come off easily. Crush the tomatoes one by one by hand. Reserve until ready to use.
Season ribs with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the ribs and brown on all sides. Remove browned ribs to a plate and set aside. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and kosher salt and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, beef, bouquet garni, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then reduce the heat to its lowest setting, and continue to cook for at least 3 hours, but this can be left cooking up to 6-8 hours. It gets better and better the longer it cooks.
After sauce has finished cooking, remove bouquet garni as well as the bones. At this point the meat should be completely tender and falling off the bone. Shred the meat with two forks. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 1 minute less than package instructions. Drain. Add pasta back to the pot. Ladle some of the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.
Serve pasta with basil leaves and freshly grated Parmesan.
Recipe adapted from Michael Symon