Sunday, January 11, 2015

Penne with Beef Rib Red Sauce

This dish is a family favorite and it has taken me years to perfect it.  This is a copycat dish of one of the best Italian restaurants in Portland, Gino's. They call it Grandma Jean's.  I don't know who Grandma Jean is but I've been trying to duplicate her amazing dish ever since I first tasted it about six years ago.

I've added some of my learned tricks, including pictures along the way.  It's easy to mess this one up.  And whatever you do, don't try it in a crockpot. Just don't.  Take the 5 hours needed to prepare this on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  You won't regret it.

6 medium sized tomatoes, peeled (see hints below)
2 packages whole pepperoni (see picture below)
4 beef short ribs
1 large yellow onion, chopped finely
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 boxes 26 oz. Pomi tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
3 stems fresh thyme*
3 stems fresh oregano*
1 T red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine

*substitute with 2 tsp dried each or 4 tsp Italian Seasoning

Slice pepperoni in 1/4 inch thick slices.  Place in a large heated stockpot.  There will be plenty of oil that will cook out of the pepperoni, so you shouldn't need to add anything to the bottom of the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally until pepperoni begins to get crispy.

Using a slotted spoon, remove pepperoni from pot and place on double thickness of paper towel to drain excess grease.  Turn heat off of the pot and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Once pot is slightly cooled, pour out remaining grease into a safe disposable container. Wipe bottom of pot out with a paper towel.  There is no need to clean the pot at this point, but this step will reduce the amount of fat and grease in your sauce.  I missed this step the first few times I made this dish and there was just way too much grease that would continually rise to the top of the sauce.  While pepperoni may not be a great healthy choice, it makes me feel a little better by taking this step.  Plus the delight of biting into a crisp piece of pepperoni in the sauce is a wonderful surprise and flavor!

Prepare the beef short ribs for cooking.  It's important to remove all excess fat from the ribs and also the membrane that is attached to the bone side of the rib.  Gently work a knife between the membrane and the bone.  If you don't take the time to do this step, the meat will not be able to release from the bone and you'll have a chewy mess on your hands.  Another mistake of mine to avoid!

Return the pot to a medium high heat.  Add short ribs, turning to brown on each side.  Add chopped onion and garlic.  Head until all sides of beef are browned and onion is translucent.  The aroma from the garlic should be releasing just about this time as well.

While meat and onions are cooking, put peeled tomatoes into a blender or food processor and blend until fully liquefied.  Add fresh tomato juice and boxed tomato juice to pot along with the bay leaves, herbs, crispy pepperoni and red pepper flakes.  Stir to blend.

Heat to a slight boil and then reduce heat and cover.  Continue to simmer covered for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Remove lid and add wine and tomato paste.  Stir and continue to cook for an additional 2 hours.  Leaving the lid on for too long will not allow the water to evaporate.  Cooking without a lid will make it thicken too quickly.

While you're waiting for your sauce to cook, pick out a good chianti, make a salad, take a short nap, play Trivia Crack or whatever is the latest addictive app on your phone or tablet.  Find something to do because rushing this sauce is just wrong.  Let it take it's time to blend all the flavors and to allow the meat to fall of the bones by itself.

Once the meat has fallen off the bone, turn off the heat and remove the bones from the pot with long tongs.  You will also need to scoop out the beef chunks with a large slotted spoon, placing them on a cutting board.  Use a knife and fork to shred apart the larger chunks of meat and remove any excess fat or gristle left.  Place shredded beef ribs back in the pot, cover with the lid and begin cooking your penne pasta.

Serve the pasta al dente with a large scoop of red beef sauce and top with a crispy piece (or 3) of garlic bread.  The pepperoni adds plenty of salt, so no need for more!

This recipe made enough sauce for about 8 servings.  This is one of those dishes that gets even better the next day.  Two boxes of penne (1 lb each) works for my family for this meal plus leftovers, but we have big appetites.

Notes:  I'm still in search of a good pepperoni and ask every store butcher I can.  I've resorted to using the whole pepperoni stick made by hormel.  The pre-sliced does not work as it's way too thin.

Peeling tomatoes- There are easy ways and there are hard ways to peel a tomato. 
Hint #1:   I have a special peeler that is made for thin skins.  I bought it at my local grocery store for $2.99.  The tomato must be very firm, however.  Peeling mushy tomatoes with a peeler is impossible.

Hint #2:  Finding decent tomatoes in the winter is difficult.  You could substitute the fresh tomatoes in this recipe with more of the boxed tomatoes.  I know you will be tempted to use any old can of tomato sauce, but I highly recommend you spend the extra money for the Pomi brand.  Just read the ingredients on the back of a can of tomatoes and then read the ingredients on the box of Pomi; tomatoes-- that's the sole ingredient.  No preservatives and GMO free. 

Hint #3:  Freeze tomatoes in the summer when they are plentiful.  I simply put them whole, into a freezer Ziplock bag.  When I want to use them, I pull them out and defrost at room temperature for about 2 hours.  Use a knife to work the stem part away and the rest of the peel will come right off.

Hint #4: Blanch your tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them into a large bowl.  Let sit for 2-3 minutes, drain hot water and rinse with cold water.  The peels will come off without a fuss.

Dietary Considerations:
Dairy Free
Gluten Free- substitute wheat pasta for your favorite gluten-free pasta; pepperoni may also have some ingredients that affect gluten intolerance
Digestive issues:  Peeling the tomatoes has worked wonders for my husband who was told he couldn't eat any tomatoes (and suffered when he did) due to acid reflux.

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