Photo by Giuliano Hazan

We love ribs.  What’s not to like?  Especially when they are fall-off-the-bone tender and coated (not drowned) with a perfectly balanced sweet and tangy BBQ sauce.  You’d be surprised, however, how unappealing that mouthwatering (we hope) description would be to an Italian who has never been exposed to American BBQ.  The combination of meat with sweet flavors is completely foreign to an Italian palate.  I confess when I was a boy and I had my first encounter with BBQ sauce I was quite taken aback. In fact, I still have not learned to like cranberry sauce with turkey or mint jelly with lamb.

You may not think that ribs are an Italian dish, but they are definitely part of northern Italy’s culinary repertoire, in particular the region around the Dolomites and the northern Veneto.  So if you are in the mood for ribs and want to try something different, here’s a recipe for succulent baby back ribs braised with tomato and sage.  In the unlikely event you have leftovers, you can make an excellent pasta sauce.  Remove the meat from the bones (it will practically fall off by itself), cut it up and mix it with the sauce and serve with a sturdy pasta shape such as rigatoni or maccheroni.

Italian Baby Back Ribs

© 2010 By Giuliano Hazan

A full rack of pork baby back ribs (about 3 pounds)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Freshly ground black pepper

1 medium clove garlic

6 large fresh sage leaves

1/3 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice

1.  Cut the rack into individual ribs.  Put the olive oil in a braising pan that will accommodate the ribs snugly, some overlap is fine.  Place over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot, put the ribs in, brown them on all sides, then remove them, set them on a plate and season with salt and pepper.  Take the pan off the heat.

2.  While the ribs are browning, peel and finely chop the garlic.  Coarsely chop the sage leaves.

3.  After removing the pan from the heat add the garlic and sage and stir for about 15 seconds.  Return the pan to a medium high heat and add the white wine.  Let it bubble away for about 30 seconds to allow the alcohol to evaporate then add the vinegar.  Let the vinegar bubble for 30 seconds then add the canned tomatoes, cutting them into small pieces with a wooden spoon.  Season the tomatoes with salt and put the ribs back into the pan.  Once the tomatoes are bubbling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan with the lid slightly askew.  Cook until the ribs are very, very tender, 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and a half, turning them about every 20 minutes.  If all the liquid in the pan evaporates before the ribs are ready, add some water.  If the sauce is too liquid when the ribs are done, remove the cover, raise the heat, and reduce the sauce.  Serve hot with good, crusty bread.