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Noodling Around The Slow Cooker !


Buon giorno!

So every year in the fall and winter, the annual period designated for “comfort food”, I long for one of my favorites, Pappardelle with Short Ribs Sauce. This one says comfort to me every time with those double-wide noodles covered with the most tender of meats and one of the most divine sauces laced with a hearty vino rosso. The tender, melt-in-your-mouth short ribs are indeed the star here as they anchor the sauce with an intense depth of flavor as well as giving it a deep dark mahogany color which enshrouds the pasta in richness. A word about the pasta: With this recipe, I do recommend the use of Pappardelle pasta – a very wide noodle. It “takes” the sauce well and has so much body as to partner with it rather than just lay there. If Pappardelle is not available, Tagliatelle or Fettucine would stand in well here. You’d think after such a description that preparing this dish might be an arduous task – but it’s not. The required slow cooking offers a perfect opportunity to use that Crock Pot or Slow Cooker gathering dust in your cabinet. If you don’t have a Slow Cooker, I will also show you how easy it is to prepare in your oven.

I am the Queen of Nothing if not Multi-Tasking. If I can’t do at least three things at one time and be thinking about the fourth, it must be time wasted. I ponder what the most perfect cooking method might be for people like me who must keep all the balls in the air at one time – one that will allow me to produce a tender piece of meat while balancing the preparation of  several other dishes. On the other hand, I propose that this method would indeed approach nirvana if I could also suggest it to the person who might not enjoy cooking at all and would rather be napping all afternoon- unconcerned about the value of managing any number of balls in the air at any given time. WOW – would that be perfection or what?

 Well it may not quite be perfection, but it is one of the oldest and easiest cooking methods – BRAISING- and it is a great choice for Short Ribs. When I say old here, I am talking ancient. Braising is said to go all the way back to the soldier days of the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, Li Shimin. For those of you, like me, who might not be up on just when “the Tangs” were tooling around China – it was around 618-907 – just a little before my time and not exactly recent history. So you get the idea – we/they have been Braising for a while now. What is Braising? It is the simple browning of meat in a little oil and then simmering slowly at a very low temperature in a covered container – Not exactly rocket science. We can do this! You can braise using a slow cooker or in the oven. (I will give you instructions to prepare today’s dish either way.) The best part is that you use less expensive cuts of meat which become extremely tender in the process. The long cooking time breaks down the meat tissue and thereby tenderizes it so that it literally falls off the bone. This method does not require a lot of attention, fuss, stirring or labor on the part of the cook.  Are you beginning to love the idea of Braising?

So we are about to prepare an amazing dish sure to win the hearts of your family and which will be  just as suitable for your next dinner extravaganza with several of your “peeps”. This is also a dish that is presently on the menus at the most “chichi”of Italian restaurants. You will be soooo cool! –All in the same afternoon, you will put your feet up and start that Swedish novel you have been putting off about girls with dragon tattoos, who kick hornets nests, while playing with fire. Aha! You, too, have become a multi tasker like me. Troppo Bella! With this post, we shall commune and form a support group with a Seven Step Program for Braising while preparing our Pappardelle With Short Ribs Sauce:

The Seven Steps

1. Season

2. Brown

3. Saute Vegetables

4. Add liquid etc

5. Cover

6. Cook “endlessly” til tender

7. Nap/Book (Most important step – do not skip)


4 lb. (approx.) Beef Short Ribs


3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

4 Cloves fresh garlic – chopped finely

1 large onion chopped

1 c. baby carrots chopped small

1 Stalk celery chopped small

2 Tbsp Tomato Paste

Zest of one large Orange

1 can (14 0z) can diced tomatoes

1 1/2 c. dry red wine

1 1/2 c. Beef Broth or stock

2 tsp Fresh Chopped Thyme

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano Cheese

Fresh Basil for garnish


Regardless of whether you are using a Slow Cooker or Oven Method you begin the same way. Season short ribs on all sides with salt and pepper. In a large pot add the olive oil and brown the short ribs on all sides – just a couple of minutes.


Remove them and set aside.


In the same pot, add garlic, onion, carrots, celery. Stir and cook for a minute.


Then add the tomato paste & orange zest and stir to incorporate.



Now pour all the ingredients from the pot to the Slow Cooker


Add the tomatoes.


Add the red wine.


Add the broth. Stir.


Add herbs and a little salt and pepper.


Add the short ribs into the Slow Cooker and stir a little to nestle the ribs and mix the ingredients.




Cook on LOW for 6-7 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours until meat is so tender that it falls from the bone.


After adding the orange zest and tomato paste, pour in the red wine and cook on Med. High while scraping bits up from bottom of pot.

Add the tomatoes, broth and herbs. Stir.

Add the short ribs back to the pot. Cover and cook in the oven at 350 degrees for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours until short ribs are tender and falling off the bone.


Regardless of which method you choose: Slow Cooker or Oven –After the ribs are cooked remove them from the pot/cooker and set aside.

Skim fat off the top with a large spoon and discard the fat. One easy way to do this is to refrigerate the sauce overnight. The next day the fat should be congealed and solid on top and easy to scrape off!

Sauce will appear thin. This is about to change! Using an immersion blender, food processor, or regular blender or vitamix, blend until fairly smooth with just little bits left. Suddenly your sauce will appear thicker and velvety.  Check for seasoning and add Kosher salt and pepper to taste.


Remove the meat from the bones – it should fall right off. Then shred with 2 forks pulling in opposite directions as I suggested in my post on Pork Ragu.


You can freeze both the sauce and the meat or part of it at this point and use it later if you like. This recipe makes a lot of sauce. You could easily get 2 dinners for 4 out of it.

Cook your pasta – add your sauce and meat to it and serve with grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese. Garnish with Fresh Basil.

With this dish – I love a nice Italian red – both in the sauce and at the table. I like Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva 2007 or a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo like Cantina Zaccagnini 2007. Both are very easy to find and will not break the bank!

As pasta meals go, you are gonna LOVE this one! Go on, have a bite!


Parla Come Mangi!




Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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Gnocchi With Pork Ragu

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This Pig Needs No Lipstick!

 This Pig Needs No Lipstick!

The Ultimate Sunday Sauce

Buon giorno!


When I think of Gnocchi, I automatically envision the Classic Tuscan dish, Gnocchi con Sugo Cinghiale or Gnocchi with Wild Boar Sauce. Since today’s grocery meat department is generally devoid of wild boar, my taste reverts to making MY favorite preparation of Gnocchi which is served with Pork Ragu . This sauce is, in my mind and heart, the standard among tomato sauces and can be used with so many types of pasta. It is easy and not expensive to prepare. This sauce illustrates the saying “Appetito vien mangiando” or Appetite comes with eating, as this is the sauce that brings an appetite to life! I like to use different sauces with my Gnocchi, but I suggest this Pork Ragu is the signature and reminds me most of that mouth watering Boar Sauce that is steeped in Tuscan tradition!

As I was growing up in our little house in Binghamton, New York, this was the type of sauce (with a couple of minor additions from me) that my mother, Loretta, most often made. It was Sunday Sauce. I can hear her say “the most flavorful sauce is made with pork – especially the bones!” The aroma of this pork sauce would permeate the house for hours, and I would wait for the moment when she would call me to “taste” the sauce. This taste test consisted of a piece of crusty Italian bread and a spoonful of the hot sauce on top. It brought a burst of flavor on the tongue and would wet my appetite for the meal to follow. I often sneaked a second taste when her attention was diverted.

Speaking of sneaking, my father, Attilio, would inevitably “slip” something into the sauce that Loretta did not know about. If asked, he called it “Sale da Gaeta”. (Translation: Salt from Gaeta – Gaeta being a city on the water between Rome and Naples from where the famous and wonderful wrinkly olives hail) Whenever a dish was especially delicious, he announced “Ah! It’s Sale da Gaeta!” None of us ever saw this “special salt” and very often, we assumed that his little addition to the recipe was usually red pepper flakes or “hot pepper” as he called it! He always had a container of this at the dinner table where he liked to add just a little more heat! (Hear more about Loretta and Attilio at“About Linda” at Linda’s Italian Table)

Each region of Italy seems to treat this sauce a little differently. Each area uses a different meat or combination of meats. Some use boar, some venison, some pork, beef, veal or all three. My mother, using the pork, left the meat on the bone alla Napoletana instead of shredding it Tuscan style. Everyone, then, received a large piece of meat still on the bone which was served separately after the pasta course and before the salad which is the traditional Italian style of presenting the meal.

When selecting the pork for this dish, it is your choice. Some even prefer to use Italian Sausage. When I choose to use sausage in any sauce, I always like a combination of sweet (mild) and hot. My family would almost always be most likely to use a cut of pork with the bones, and sometimes would combine both sausage and pork in the sauce. For Gnocchi, my personal preference is to use just the pork with bones. After the pork is shredded, it becomes very tender and surprisingly light with the Gnocchi. Any very inexpensive cut of pork from neck bones to ribs – anything really – can be used here. The desired effect is a combination of intense flavor and tender meat. The meat will cook in the sauce so long that it will tenderize and fall from the bone making it easy to serve. Andiamo!

About 3 lb pork on bones, can be ribs, neck bones or other





1/4 lb pancetta diced

4 cloves garlic – chopped finely

4 tbsp olive oil

1 onion chopped – the sweeter the onion the sweeter the sauce!

1 stalk celery chopped

8 baby carrots chopped in very small pieces ( baby carrots are sweeter!)

1 c. red Italian wine (vino rosso) – could be a Chianti or Valpolicella

2 28 oz cans San Marzano Tomatoes- if you can find them because San Marzano tomatoes are by far the tastiest – if you can’t – use other- can use crushed or whole peeled and crush them

1/2 c. chopped Fresh Flat (preferable) Leaf Italian Parsley

1/2 cup chopped Fresh Basil

2 Tbsp chopped Fresh Oregano

1 tsp sugar

1 – 1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt (to taste)

6-7 twists of the Black Pepper grinder

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Fresh Basil chopped for garnish

Begin by just browning the pancetta pieces.

Add the olive oil and then the garlic and pork with heat at medium being careful not to let the garlic burn.

Just brown each side of the pork as it will cook thoroughly in the sauce. Remove the pork pieces, set aside, and add the onion, celery, and carrots. Stir occasionally and cook these vegetables about 5 min until just tender.

Then add the browned meat back to the pan followed by the wine.Scrape the bottom of the pan a little to release the small bits from the bottom of the pan, turning the meat to let the wine seep into both sides. Cook the wine for about 2-3 min at medium high and let it bubble.

Then add the San Marzano Tomatoes, and all herbs and remaining seasoning including the sugar. ( Loretta and Attilio would be taken aback by this last addition as they used to whisper “so and so puts sugar in their sauce” as if some law had been broken.) In ancient times, sugar was said to be used only by the wealthy as it was considered dear. In our household it was – GASP ! – the Cardinal Sin.

My personal take on this is that the sugar cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and adds a little balance to the sauce.

If you have a rind or a piece of one from your Parmigiano-Reggiano, go ahead and drop it in the sauce as it simmers! It will add another level of flavor.

Simmer this sauce on low heat for about 3 hours – stirring occasionally. I like to cover mine while simmering. You know it’s done when the meat is so tender that is falls easily from the bones.

When sauce is finished, remove the pork pieces to a separate dish. the meat should be falling off the bones and you might have to “fish” for it.

The next step is familiar to those especially in the South who make barbecue. Take 2 forks and gently use them to shred the meat pulling in opposite directions.

Discard the bones and the fat. You might want to stir a couple of tablespoons of the sauce into the meat. I like to keep the meat separate from the sauce until serving time.

To serve, prepare the gnocchi as directed in last week’s post “Making Gnocchi” and place it in a serving dish bathing it in the delicious sauce. I take the shredded pork and mound it in the middle.

Garnish with chopped Fresh Basil and present to your guests with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese.

This makes a large amount of sauce, so what you do not use can be frozen for another great pasta meal – perhaps with Pappardelle!

My favorite accompaniment to this meal is a Zenato Valpolicella Superiore Doc 2007. .


**Also: See the new November RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE – for another great sauce recipe for GNOCCHI!

Food Photos by Tommy Hanks Photography

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