As much as I aspire to live up to my Italian heritage, I have to admit that as a child, I did not have a great deal of exposure to Italian cooking. So, when I run across a recipe like this, that just has "Italian Comfort Food" written all over it, I suffer a combination of food lust, and dismay that I didn't have an Italian grandmother coaching me in the kitchen during my youth. No disrespect to my mom, trust me, its just not how I grew up.
Well, I'm making up for all of that now! I ran across this recipe over at Proud Italian Cook and couldn't wait to give it a try. Growing up in the city, I was never exposed to the more...ahem....rustic cuts of meat. Since moving to the country, I have learned all about buying meat in quantity. And by this, I mean when we buy pork, we buy a whole hog. Literally. Right down to the oink. That's right, we work with a farmer, who delivers a hog to the butcher for us, where it is processed and packaged for us. Admittedly, there are always a number of mysterious brown packages left in our freezer after about a year. Pork Heart, Liver...and, yes, neck bones. People have told me to use them in soup, but really, they are more fat than they are meat, so I was kind of grossed out by the idea of putting that in my soup. And so, without fail, these "parts" inevitably go to the dogs (yes, really, our dogs get them for treats.)
No more! The poor dogs are going to have to settle for the hearts and livers (which I still refuse to cook or eat), because the neck bones are all mine. The hubs may not even be lucky enough to share with me. I emailed Marie of Proud Italian Cook, and she graciously sent me some guidance on making this dish, which I am thrilled to be able to pass along to you (with my own modifications, naturally!).
Start with some neck bones. I am estimating I had about 6-8 pounds (I found 4 brown paper packages of them in my freezer), but you can use however much you have available to you. Keep in mind that there is very little meat on these babies, so you may want to err on the heavy side.
In the largest pan you have, pour a little oil, then salt and pepper the bones generously, and caramelize them until they are nice and golden. This caramelization gives the gravy an amazing flavor. You will have to do this in batches if you are using more than a couple of pounds. Set the browned bones aside.In the same pan (you want all those yummy brown bits in the gravy!) saute some chopped onion (I used about 2 small onions), plenty of fresh minced garlic (about 6 cloves for me), and cook until soft. Then toss in a bunch of basil. You know I can't resist throwing some red wine in any sauce I make (and its a really good excuse to open a bottle, as if I need an excuse), so I poured in about a cup of a nice local Norton to deglaze the pan.
Toss your caramelized bones back in the pan, and cover with tomatoes. Marie says to only use San Marzano tomatoes, and I would have loved to, but they are just simply unavailable here unless you have the time to drive to St Louis, which I did not. So, sorry Marie, but I got the best crushed tomatoes I could get my hands on, and I threw in a can of fire roasted tomatoes for extra flavor.Let that concoction simmer until the meat is falling off the bone. I let mine go for about 3 hours, which may have been overkill, but the little buggers just didn't want to let go. When you are getting close, boil some of your favorite pasta (In my case, I boiled up a package of bucatini, which is by far my favorite cut of pasta. It just grabs the sauce and drinks it in like a straw.) and get ready for food porn (yes, my parents just read that).Yes, that's right, it is beautiful, and messy, and you will make sounds you didn't know could come from a person while you are eating. You should either eat this dish while no one else is around, or make sure you have a partner in crime so that you have someone to share your dirty little secret. Oh, and lots of napkins. And bibs wouldn't hurt either. Damn. I mean, really, there are just no words. Try and take these from me and you might just get stabbed in the hand with a fork. After I was done, the kitchen table looked like the scene of a homicide investigation.
I know what you are thinking. Neck bones? I've had more than one friend be unable to process the appeal. You've got to be open minded, but trust me, it is worth it. I didn't even tell my friend Susan about this because it would probably make her semi-vegetarian stomach heave just thinking about it. But I have a few girls who are with me...my Memphian friend Whit was so proud of me for taking on the pork parts previously unknown. Between her and Ginny, we're gonna throw down on this another time. You can, too. I promise I won't tell.....but send me pictures.....