Babe, I’m on Fire: Braised Short Ribs with Horseradish Gremolata and Pumpkin Orzo

Damn, I’m good. Well: either I’m good or I choose very doable, readable recipes. Or I have really good cooking equipment. Or maybe not: maybe I’m just smokin’, I’m so hot. Check it out:

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I made this. This is not something I got from a restaurant, I got this from me: from my cutting, braising, stirring and slicing. Ok, there was a little help from Diana (she came over Saturday to eat this and to watch “Crash”) but by the time she got here, the short ribs were already in the oven.

At the risk of being too humble, let me say it like this: if you have a Dutch Oven or a heavy-bottomed skillet you can make this too. It’s so easy. And it’s NOT expensive. Two beef short ribs from Whole Foods cost me $8. The rest of the ingredients were all cheap vegetables with the exception of the bottle of red wine which, hopefully, you have laying around somewhere. The recipe comes from the Babbo cookbook and the results are as good as anything I’ve eaten at Babbo which is saying a lot because I consider Babbo the best restaurant I’ve ever been to ever so do not take that statement with a grain of salt. Take it with a box of Kosher Salt and dump it on your head. It’s really good for the roots.

This may be difficult. I want to share the recipe with you here, but the problem is that there’s the recipe for the Braised Short Ribs and then there’s the recipe for the Pumpkin Orzo and these are on two different pages. What I will do is combine them into one recipe because while the short ribs are in the oven you can start the orzo, which is what I did. Are you ready? Here’s what you’ll need…

For the shortribs…

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 16-ounce beef short ribs [NOTE: I bought two, one for me and one for Diana and that was plenty. Basically buy as many ribs as there are people.]

Kosher Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

2 carrots, peeled and roughly chop [NOTE: because I used half the amount of short ribs, I halved some of this stuff too. I didn’t halve the amount of liquid so this may get confusing. I’ll just share the recipe as Mario wrote it and you can make these choices by yourself.]

1 onion, roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, roughly chopped

5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

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2 cups Barolo or other full-bodied red wine (I didn’t use Barolo, I used Chianti because it was cheaper)

1 16 oz can peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand with their juices

1 cup brown chicken stock [I used boxed chicken stock and it was fine]

1/2 bunch of thyme

1/2 bunch of rosemary

1/2 bunch of oregano

[I tied the herbs together, to make them easier to remove.]

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1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

2. In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Season the ribs with salt and pepper…

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…and cook them over high heat until deep brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total.

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[Note: Mario emphasizes in the recipe intro that “the most important step here is the initial browning: do not shorten it or the final braise will not be as intensely flavored or colored.” I cannot agree with him more… when I made beef Bourgignon in the past, the end product was bland and I’m entirely sure it was due to not browning the meat enough. Here, I browned for the full 15 minutes and you can SEE the results here: it makes a huge difference. Brown that meat!]

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Remove the short ribs to a plate and set aside.

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Add the carrots, onion, celery, and garlic to the pan and cook over high heat until browned and softened, about 4 minutes.

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Season with salt and pepper and stir in the red wine, tomatoes and juices, chicken stock, and herbs, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge browned bits.

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Bring the mixture to a boil and return the short ribs to the pan.

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Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven. Cook for two hours or until the meat is very tender and literally falling off the bone.

Ok, now let’s start the Pumpkin Orzo!

You need:

1/2 lb butternut squash or pumpkin, seeded and peeled

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbs honey

2 Tbs balsamic vinegar

1 cup orzo

1 cup brown chicken stock

1. Cut the squash or pumpkin into 3 or 4 evenly sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with the olive oil and wrap in foil.

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Roast in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until very soft. Rmove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

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Place the cooked squash in the bowl of a food processor. Add the honey, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper

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and pulse to for m a relatively smooth puree.

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[Note: this tastes delicious, by the way. Just thought you should know.]

Set aside.

2. Bring 3 qts of water to a boil and add 2 Tbs of salt. Set up an ice bath nearby. Cook the orzo in the boiling water for 3 minutes, to blanch but not cook through.

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Drain the orzo and plunge it into the ice bath. Once cooled, drain it and lay it out on a baking sheet to dry.

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3. Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a 12-inch saute pan. Add the orzo and the squash puree and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the chicken stock is fully absorbed by the orzo. Season with salt and pepper.

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[Try to time it so this finishes right when the short ribs come out of the oven.]

Make the gremolata… {What’s a gremolata? Anyone? Anyone?}

In a small bowl, combine 1 bunch of flat-leat parsley, zest of 2 lemons cut into julienne strips and 1/4 lb fresh horseradish grated. Here’s Diana with the horseradsih:

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[This was my first non-jarred horseradish. I feel so earthy!]

Here’s Diana grating it into a small bowl with the parsley and lemon:

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[I think, for the horseradish alone, the gremolata is worth making: horseradish and meat go wonderful together. Give it a try.]

Now, let’s bring it all together…

This is the most glorious moment that comes with cooking something like this: the moment it comes out of the oven. For two hours it’s been quietly simmering, its chemical properties changing, its muscle fibres loosening… what will it look like? Let’s remove the aluminum foil!

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Mmm: that picture says it all. It fills me with wonder and excitement: this is what cooking is all about. This is why you cook at home. For this, moments like this. Cue Kelly Clarkson: “For a MOMENT LIKE THIS…”

The final step is: “Divide the pumpkin orzo evenly among four warmed bowls. Place one short rib in each bowl, top with a little of the pan juices and a handful of the gremolata, and serve immediately.”

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If you’re a meat-eater, and I pray you are, I urge you to give this recipe a try, if only for the pure visceral thrill of lifting that foil and inhaling those heavenly, meaty, stewy vapors. It causes me to open the book I started reading last night–“The Vintage Guide to Classical Music”–to share with you this quote about what makes great classical music great, but I think it works just as well for a great recipe: “Greatness and genius–like love and compassion and joy and God, and most of the supremely important things in life–are vague and indefinable, more complex than we will ever be able to fathom, acting in mysterious ways spread tenuously across history and measureless numbers of people.”

I’m not a great cook, but this recipe is a great recipe. Give it a try.

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