America loves barbecued ribs, and I do as well, but Italians cook them in tomato sauce and dress their pasta with those delicious morsels of meat. The meat and sauce is absolutely succulent and everybody at our home enjoys picking the meat off the bone.
- One whole rack (about 4 pounds) pork spare ribs
- freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, sliced (about 3 cups)
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 6 pickled cherry peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered
- Two 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) plus more if needed, with their liquid, seeded and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 to 3 cups hot water, or as needed
- 1 pound rigatoni
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 2/3 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese, plus more for passing, if you like
Cut the rack of spare ribs between the bones into single ribs (or ask your butcher to do this for you.) Season the rib pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy braising pan over medium heat. Add as many of the ribs as will fit without touching. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove the ribs, drain on a baking sheet lined with paper towel. Repeat with the remaining ribs. Adjust the temperature throughout the browning, so the fat in the pan is sizzling, but the pieces of pork that stick to the pan don’t burn.
Pour off all but about 4 tablespoons of fat from the casserole. Add the onions, garlic and cherry peppers and cook, stirring, until the onions are wilted and caramelized, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, scraping the pan to loosen the brown bits stuck to the bottom. Tuck the spare ribs into the tomato sauce, season lightly with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat to simmering and cook, turning the spare ribs in the sauce occasionally, until the ribs are fork-tender, about 2 hours. Ladle some of the hot water into the casserole from time to time as necessary to keep the ribs covered with liquid.
To serve: When the ribs are almost tender, heat 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot. Stir the rigatoni into the boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, about 10 minutes.
Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and spoon in enough of the spare rib sauce to generously coat the pasta. Toss in the parsley and bring the sauce and pasta to a boil, tossing to coat the pasta with sauce. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 2/3 cup grated cheese. Transfer the pasta to a warm platter or individual plates and top with the spare ribs. Spoon a little of the remaining sauce over the pasta and serve immediately, passing additional sauce and, if you like, grated cheese separately.