Monday, July 15, 2013

Pork Ribs and Pasta

Normally, my mother Linda is in the habit of sketching out Sunday Dinner somewhat in advance. There may be meat pulled from the freezer, open cookbooks laid out, or a telltale shopping list. This particular Sunday, though, all four McElroy's felt a light and lazy ennui in the air. The future was uncertain. The afternoon was fading away with no dinner prospects in evidence when all of the sudden - the smell of stewing bell peppers whispered from the kitchen. It was an almost wintery aroma that soon mingled with steamy pasta cooking water. Was Linda making starchy Italian comfort food on such a light summer day? This was a change of pace from quinoa salad and trendy, spicy watermelon. There she stood, rubbing a rack of pork ribs with herbs and mildly ruminating - 

"Well, I'm just clearing old things out of the fridge. These peppers need to get used, I'll make them into a sauce, and these pork ribs I bought on sale - I've never actually cooked pork ribs. I bought them thinking Matt could barbecue them, but why do they need barbecue sauce, anyway?...I guess we're having pork ribs and pasta." 

I stared at her with widened eyes. She seemed a little dejected by her lack of a better plan, but I recognized that she was working through another arc of her own genius, stealthily crafting a perfect meal. It occurred to me that stealth is actually a necessary component of craft. Though Linda owned an Italian restaurant for so many years, she doesn't act out the basic models of Italian cooking at home very often. The simplicity of Italian style does pervade her philosophy of food, but her ingredients rarely follow the colors of the flag so precisely as seen below. 

Herbed Pork Ribs, Stewed Pepper (Peperonata) Pasta and Grilled Bread with Pesto

"Linda, you Donna Italiana!!" I repeated several times, upping the drama with operatic pronunciation. Nobody flinched. My family is accustomed to the occasional moments where I lose self possession and start raving like an idiot. 

Linda in black, on the left: She's the sort of Donna Italiana who smirks at the frivolity of too much fashion.

Now, about those Pork Ribs. They were brushed with a mixture of olive oil, salt, pepper, minced garlic, and fresh chopped rosemary and thyme: grilled over a fairly low fire for about one hour. So delicious and fatty, apparently they don't need barbecue sauce!

When fresh pesto is around, you just have to slather it on everything. 

 Somewhere in between pasta and a pasta salad, but solidly Italy.

Peperonata Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes
Linda's creation from July 7, 2013

Thinly slice: 3 red bell peppers (orange or yellow fine, too) 1/2 of a large fennel bulb, 1/2 of a large onion, and 4 or 5 cloves of garlic. In a saucepan, saute all this for a few minutes in olive oil, and then add a 1/2 cup of water and a splash of red wine vinegar. Cover with a lid and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes. 

Gather a big handful of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half. Place in a bowl, salt them and marinate in a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar while the peppers cook. 

Boil 1/2 pound of fusilli or similarly shaped pasta, drain and mix with the warm Pepperonata. Top with the cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. 

Be sure to serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese. A spoonful of fresh pesto really makes the pasta vibrant, if you happen to have it. We brought our pesto home from Ristorante Machiavelli. Here is a basic pesto recipe from Saveur magazine. 

Wild, Italian style gesticulating, "con eccitazione."

Truly a comforting Sunday Dinner, and probably one of my favorite of the year so far.


  1. Wow. You guys are inspiring. I really gotta step up my game a whole lot. Would be lost on jonah, though.

    love, joe

    1. Well, whatever you do won't be lost on him at all - I remember slurping raw oysters when I was 3. Remember, this dinner was not fancy food, just peasant food. Cucina Povera. :)


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