Pork rib sauce
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.