Versions of this rustic, soulful recipe appear all over Italy. The amount of tomatoes in the dish varies. As you go farther south, more tomato and red wine are used in the sauce. Up north, less tomato is used and white wine prevails. Some cooks add a tiny bit of vinegar, while others might add a pinch of cinnamon. In Lombardy, where the dish is variously spelled cassoeula, cazzoeula, and casoeûla, among other ways, a generous measure of cabbage is braised along with the ribs and sausage, and pig’s ears, pig’s feet, and pig skin are included. I recommend using so-called country-style ribs (more meat) for this filling braise, but you can use back ribs as well. If you are friends with your local Italian delicatessen owner, ask him or her to save you the outer pieces of prosciutto fat that are usually trimmed away and discarded. The fat will enrich this dish. Serve with soft polenta and spicy braised greens.
Combine the prosciutto fat or pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and marjoram on a chopping board and chop together to form a medium-fine battuto. In a large sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the battuto and sauté until softened and pale gold, about 12 minutes.
Prick the sausages with a fork in a few places, then add the sausages and ribs to the pan. When they have taken on a bit of color, after 10 minutes or so, add the wine. When it has evaporated, add the water, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes longer. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, re-cover, and cook over low heat until the pork is falling-off-the-bone tender and the sauce is thick, about 1½ hours longer.
Using a large spoon, spoon off and discard the excess fat. Serve the dish sprinkled with pecorino cheese.
Go south to Apulia for Primitivo di Manduria from Felline or a Primitivo di Salento from Conti Zecca. A California Zinfandel from Rafanelli, Ridge, Renwood, or Biale would also do nicely.
© 2004 Joyce Goldstein. All rights reserved.