We here at Chez Widow have a fondness for lesser cuts of meat - we tend to eschew that much-lauded tenderloin in favor of cuts with flavor. Ask any chef what he'd like to remove from his menu, and chances are, it's the beef fillet. Why? It's the most boring cut on the cow. I know, I know, you love fillet - it's so tender! Yes, it is tender, and it has its place, I suppose, but the truth is, the very thing that people love about a fillet or tenderloin is the very thing keeping it from reaching its full meaty potential - fat, bones, and connective tissue. The same is true in pork - in fact, it's even worse in pork, because for some reason, we have decided to breed all of the tasty fat out of pork - breed the fat out of pork! Pork fat is the tastiest of all the fats! I mean, schmaltz is good, too, but pork fat! I just had lunch and still I'm dreaming of pork fat . . .
Fortunately, some farmers have seen this travesty and are starting to breed their pigs to be fat again. Thanks for the fatty pigs! Oh, have I digressed...
I don't remember why I picked up my first country style pork rib, what it was that made me want to make it for dinner (although just viewing that jewel-like pinky flesh quickens my heart) - I think it might have been some sort of delicious beef short rib I'd had recently - whatever it was, it was a really, really good idea. Very similar to a short rib, the country pork rib is a meaty, fatty, connective tissue containing, braisable thing of beauty. We've tried this cut with Thai red curry and pineapple - that was really good but not very photogenic - but here I've just done a traditional, American pot roast style here, served up with some pork-laden beans and greens. It's the perfect comfort meal, full of rich and wholesome flavors. Choose ribs with more reddish meat than pink - it's the red part which cooks to a meltingly tender, succulent mess of porky goodness. Convinced? Country pork ribs can be found (bone in) at Blues Creek Farms at the North Market, or (boneless) at Weiland's; both are superb.
For this recipe, I used what will probably be my last ramps of the year - and my best, lovingly (I'm sure) harvested for me by my CSA farmer, these were delightfully mild and crunchy. I also used the cautiously harvested stinging nettles - my first stinging nettle experience. They were really good, very similar to spinach but without that weird, mouth-drying spinach affect. They are a little scary to prepare - brushing up against them will cause a reaction similar to a chemical burn, no fun (I dropped one on my toe without realizing and I kept wondering why it was burning!) This is my method for preparing the nettles: put gloves on. Hold the nettles with tongs in one hand, and snip the leaves off with clean scissors, directly into the salad spinner. Wash in a few changes of water. The sting is, of course, neutralized with cooking. Yum! I love eating dangerously! Can't wait to try some more!
Braised Country Style Pork Ribs with Beans & Greens - Serves 2 hungry people, with leftovers
For the pork:
3-4 country style pork ribs, bone in or out, although I tend to prefer them with a bone
salt & pepper
1 onion, rough chop
4 medium carrots, rough chop, or a handful of leftover, dried-out baby carrots (I know, you don't want to throw them away)
1 rib celery, rough chop
5 cloves garlic, skins removed and just crushed a little with the flat side of a chef's knife
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cups red wine
1 large 28 can tomatoes, with their juice, no need to chop or anything
1 cups chicken stock
For the beans and greens:
1 link mild Italian sausage, or 4 slices bacon, chopped finely
1 cup ramps, cleaned, blanched in salted water for 2 minutes
2 cans white beans or those fun enormous Italian "Gigante" beans
Lots of greens - I used a combination of nettles and spinach from my CSA along with 2 heads of escarole, chopped (you could also use tender kale or Swiss chard, although you might have to adjust cooking time; the greens I chose cook very quickly)
good extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
For the pork: preheat your oven to 325. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Season the ribs all over with salt and pepper. Place a small amount of oil in your pan and place the ribs in the pan, being careful you don't crowd them. Brown the ribs on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. The trick to searing is: do not move the meat! It will let you know it's ready to be turned when you nudge it gently with tongs and it lets go of the pan. When all of the meat is browned, remove it to a plate and add the onion, carrots and celery to the pan. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until the veggies are just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste and cook - it will stick to the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, but that's exactly what you want. You want the tomato paste to turn completely brown. When this happens, about 4 minutes or so, add the garlic, and then deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping up all of the brown bits. Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock. Place the ribs back into the pan, nestling them down into the liquid. Cover loosely with foil and place in the oven, Cook for an hour, the turn the ribs over and cook another hour. These ribs take about 2-3 hours to cook, depending on the beginning size. They are done with they begin falling apart and off the bone.
When the ribs are done, remove them to a plate and strain the cooking liquid through a strainer - it doesn't have to be perfectly strained, a colander is fine. Discard the solids and place the sauce and ribs back in the pan and keep warm until serving. The liquid makes a nice thick sauce which doesn't need any sort of butter mounting or anything, it's rustic.
For the beans & greens: Brown your sausage or bacon in a large saute pan until well browned. Add the beans and toss to coat. Remove from pan and add the ramps, toss until they begin to brown lightly. Add a little olive oil to the pan, if necessary, then add the greens and saute. When the greens are almost wilted, add the bean & sausage mixture back to the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add a splash of balsamic vinegar (you're going to need the acidity) and stir. Place a mound of beans on a plate and drizzle liberally with good extra virgin olive oil. Place a rib on top of the beans and spoon a little sauce over. There now, don't you feel better?