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Pasta Night in the Fall

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Better with bones: After a summer of salads and veggies on the grill, it’s braising season again.

Slow cooking on the bone yields pork that’s succulent and tender, and bones make any tomato sauce extra savory. So, there’s a chef’s secret that now you know: everything tastes better on the bone.

If cooler weather has made you hanker for some comfort food, this pork-rib sugo is your dish, deeply satisfying and stress reducing. It has been a challenging year, for sure, but a sweet-smelling, homestyle, Italian American ragù on the stove will make your kitchen the place that everyone wants to be. You may just want to double the sauce, so you have enough to serve on polenta the next day.

If your market doesn’t have a butcher who will saw ribs into riblets for you, you can make this sauce with cubed pork shoulder. If you can round up some pork bones to add to the sauce while it simmers, you’ll be glad you did.

Many of us may need to get a little creative with Halloween activities this year. Here’s one game plan: Line up some scary movies, toss a platter of rigatoni, dress a heaping green salad, and open a bottle of California Cabernet Sauvignon. All treats, no tricks.

Editor’s note:  Taste California Travel obtained the above ideas and the recipe below from Discover California, whose mission, as you might expect, is to encourage people to see the Golden State. That disclosure made, we’re pleased to tell you that we agree that it’s time to think of heartier dishes and this recipe looks like something that would taste pretty good on a brisk evening at the end of October (and might go well in November, too). Their recipe suggests pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon or Znfandel (from California, of course). We’d weigh in on the side of Zin and think you should ask your wine shop to help you pick one that’s not too big and syrupy.


Rigatoni with Pork Rib Sugo

The baby back ribs that most people throw on the barbecue make a succulent, rustic pasta sauce. You’ll need a friendly butcher to saw across the ribs for you, but the rest of the method is easy. The sauce (sugo in Italian) reheats well so you can make it a day ahead. Set your formal manners aside here. The best way to enjoy this dish is to nibble the meat off the riblets between bites of pasta. Cutting the meat off would spoil the fun!

Wine suggestion: California Cabernet Sauvignon or California Zinfandel


  • 2 pounds baby back ribs, in 1 slab
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28-oz/800 g) tomatoes, pureed in a blender
  • ¾ teaspoon ground fennel or finely crumbled dried oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil
  • Pinch baking soda, optional
  • 1 pound (450 g) rigatoni or penne
  • ½ cup (35 g) freshly grated pecorino romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for topping

Serves 6



Ask the butcher to saw the slab of ribs lengthwise into 1-inch wide (25-mm) strips. With a chef’s knife, cut between the ribs to make individual riblets. Season all over with salt and pepper.

In a large, heavy pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pot, brown the riblets all over, adjusting the heat to prevent burning. Transfer the riblets to a plate as they are browned.

Pour off and discard any fat in the bottom of the pot. Return the pot to medium-low heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onion is soft and golden brown and the meaty residue on the bottom of the pot has dissolved, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute to release its fragrance. 

Add the tomato puree, fennel, and basil and bring to a simmer. Return the riblets to the pot along with any juices on the plate. Cover partially and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the riblets are tender and the sauce is thick and tasty, about 1-1/2 hours, adding a splash of water occasionally if the sauce gets too thick. Season with salt and more fennel or oregano if desired. Remove the basil sprigs. If the sauce tastes tart, add a pinch of baking soda and cook for 1 minute. The baking soda will neutralize the acidity and make the sauce taste more mellow. Keep the sauce warm over low heat while you cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Set aside 1 cup of the hot pasta water, then drain the pasta in a sieve. Return the pasta to the hot pot over medium-low heat. Add the sauce and stir to coat the pasta with the sauce. Remove from the heat, add the cheese, and stir to combine, adding reserved pasta water if needed to moisten. Divide among 6 bowls, top each portion with another sprinkle of cheese, then serve.

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