Rachel Roddy

Pork rib sauce

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Pork rib and sausage sauce

Ada Boni wrote her first recipe when she was 11 years old. Thirty years of cook­ing, writ­ing and teach­ing later (and be­liev­ing that a fam­ily’s hap­pi­ness was born at the ta­ble) she com­piled Il Tal­is­mano della Felic­ità, the tal­is­man of hap­pi­ness, an en­cy­clo­pe­dic col­lec­tion of recipes still con­sid­ered a clas­sic. Her sec­ond book, La Cucina Ro­mana, is an ode to her Ro­man roots, also a bid to cap­ture a food cul­ture she feared was be­ing lost.

While Il Tal­is­mano is made up of neat in­gre­di­ent lists and prac­ti­cal in­struc­tion for its 2,139 recipes, La Cucina Ro­mana is a nar­ra­tive. Each recipe has at least a para­graph in which his­tory, cus­toms, prac­ti­cal ad­vice and sketched mea­sure­ments are knit­ted to­gether. It could be stiff and schol­arly, but isn’t. Nor does it feel like a crusty mu­seum piece. La Cucina is lovely, cap­tur­ing a gen­uine way of cook­ing, much of which is still alive, al­most 90 years af­ter the book was first pub­lished.

La Cucina is maybe the book that has best helped me be­gin to un­der­stand the food cul­ture that seems to im­preg­nate ev­ery brick here in Tes­tac­cio. It is also the book from which I have done some of my most suc­cess­ful cook­ing, which begs the ques­tion: is broad but good ad­vice some­times more help­ful than an ex­act­ing recipe? Are we hap­pier, more re­source­ful cooks with­out them? Take Boni’s recipe for pork rib and sausage sugo (sauce), which be­gins by fry­ing an onion in lard, then adding a bat­tuto (chopped mix) of lardo, gar­lic and pars­ley. Next we are told to add un po’ (a bit) of chopped car­rot and cel­ery, which pro­vides foun­da­tion in which to brown pork ribs. Af­ter sea­son­ing, and once ev­ery­thing is ben roso­lato

(well browned), wet with wine and, once that has evap­o­rated, add enough tomato sauce and wa­ter to cover the meat and leave to sim­mer

pi­ano pi­ano (slowly, slowly), adding sausages half way.

Even so, there is no es­cap­ing my mo­men­tary panic when faced with recipes like this. How much is a bit, some, enough? How the hell will I recog­nise halfway if I don’t have any idea of the whole jour­ney? Then I re­mem­ber I have the arm­bands of ex­pe­ri­ence and jump in. Olive oil in­stead of lard and the small onion will do. My bat­tuto is pancetta, gar­lic and pars­ley and I don’t have

un po’ of car­rot or cel­ery so I leave them out. I take my butcher’s ad­vice and use six ribs and four fat sausages and trust my­self that 800g chopped plum toma­toes and the wa­ter used to slosh the tin clean is what is needed to cover. Halfway turns out to be 30 min­utes, and the sauce catch­ing tells me more wa­ter is needed. Af­ter an hour my sauce is rusty red and rich, the meat plump and ten­der. It is good.

In Rome, dishes like this of­ten pro­vide two cour­ses: the sauce with pasta; the meat as a sec­ond course. How­ever, Boni sug­gests serv­ing both parts with po­lenta as a sin­gle dish, ide­ally spread on a large wooden board called a spi­ana­tora, around which you sit a fam­ily armed with forks and ... ‘at­tac­care!’

At home I serve it with gnoc­chi, fet­tuc­cine or tubes of riga­toni, putting the ribs and sausages on an­other plate ready to be picked up and eaten with fin­gers, sauce mopped up with a bit of bread.

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