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Chef Mario Batali really has a genius for big flavor. His television appearances give you a pretty good idea of that genius, but go to his restaurant Babbo in New York and he will knock your socks off? I love just about everything on the menu, but one of the standouts is Beef Cheeks Ravioli. Weird, right? You’ve probably never thought about the beef’s cheeks and don’t particularly like thinking about them now. Well a beef cheek turns out to be the tenderest little nugget of meat you’ve ever eaten–or at least it is by the time Mario is done with it. The problem is that you’re not likely to find beef cheeks kicking around the meat counter at your local supermarket. So I’ve created an off-shoot of his dish using short ribs, which also have a ton of flavor but are nowhere near as hard to acquire. Why cook meat on the bone if you know you’re eventually going to take it off? Because whatsoever you cook on the bone–meat, fish, or chicken–has more flavor. This dish is not your basic weeknight dish. It requires a few days of preparation. Braise the short ribs one day; put together the ravioli the next. It is worth it, though. Your guests will be blown away.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds beef short ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 bay leaf, preferably Turkish
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
72 round wonton skins*
2 cups Quick Tomato Sauce (recipe follows) or your favorite store-bought tomato sauce
3/4 cup ricotta salata
1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
Heat the oil in a large covered skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to the skillet and cook, turning often, until browned on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate or platter and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and carrot. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes longer. Pour in the wine, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Boil until the wine has reduced by half. Return the ribs to the skillet, pour in the chicken stock, and add the bay leaf. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover tightly, and simmer until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Transfer ribs to a plate or platter and set aside until cool enough to handle. Skim off the fat from the surface of the cooking liquid. (Alternatively, transfer the ribs and the sauce to a bowl, cool, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the congealed fat that rises to the surface of the cooking liquid.) Return the liquid to the skillet and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil and cook rapidly until the sauce is slightly thickened and reduced to 3/4 or 1/2 cup, just enough to lightly bind the meat and cheese. Season with salt and pepper; remove and discard the bay leaf.
Take the meat off the bones of the ribs, removing all fat and gristle. Chop the meat fine and discard the bones. Add the meat to the reduced sauce and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with salt and pepper.
Working with a few wonton skins at a time, keeping the others covered with plastic wrap, moisten the edges with water. Mound 1 tablespoon of the filling in the center of a wonton and press another wonton skin on top. Press out the air and crimp the edges tightly to seal. Transfer to a flour-dusted sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining wonton skins and filling. (The ravioli may be frozen at this point and kept tightly wrapped in the freezer for up to 1 month. Freeze flat on a sheet pan and, when solid, transfer to resealable plastic bags.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Heat the tomato sauce in a small saucepan until almost boiling. Add the ravioli to the simmering water and cook until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. (If frozen, the ravioli will take a few minutes longer.) Drain well and transfer to warmed pasta bowls. Spoon some of the tomato sauce on top of the ravioli and serve the rest on the side. Top with some of the ricotta salata and a pinch of basil.
Quick Tomato Sauce: Heat 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 small onion, finely chopped, and 2 garlic cloves, minced. Cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Empty one 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, including juice, into a large bowl and use your hands or a fork to crush. Add the crushed tomatoes and juices to the saucepan. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper; simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 20 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup shredded fresh basil leaves and 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes. Serve or refrigerate, covered, overnight and warm gently just before serving.
* Available in the produce or frozen food section of many supermarkets or at Asian markets.
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