Tender chunks of pork ribs are a wintery specialty from Ferrara. Tomato, olives, and basil add especially rich flavors to the meaty ribs. A thick beef chuck blade roast can be substituted with great success. With either meat, this dish evokes snug evenings in Ferrara farmhouses, when everyone gathers around the big kitchen table for hours of good talk and good food. Serve this on the first really cold night of winter, if possible in front of an open fire.
Browning the meat: Trim excess fat from the meat. If pork is in one piece, separate into pieces by cutting between the ribs. If you are using the beef roast, cut it into pieces about 1 1/2 inches long and 1 inch thick. Heat the oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the meat in a single layer. Take about 20 minutes to brown it slowly, until dark brown and crusty on all sides. Remove the meat to a platter.
Braising: Keep the heat at medium as you stir in the onion and parsley. Cook 10 minutes, or until golden brown, taking care not to burn the brown glaze in the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently. Stir in the garlic, bay leaves, and spices. Return the meat to the pan, turning to coat it with the vegetables and seasonings. Pour in the wine, adjusting the heat so it bubbles slowly. As the wine cooks down over 10 to 15 minutes, use a wooden spatula to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Break up the tomatoes as you add them to the pan. Stir in the olives, and bring the mixture to a very slow bubble over low heat. Cover tightly and cook over low heat 1 hour. Add the basil, cover, and cook at a gently bubble another 30 minute, or until the meat is tender. Season with salt and pepper. Skim any fat from the surface of the sauce before serving.
Serving suggestion: Serve over hot polenta on a heated serving platter or with mashed potatoes.
Wine: This dish takes to a quaffing wine—generous in fruit, soft, and easy to drink. In Emilia-Romagna it would be a Barbera dei Colli Bolognesi di Monte San Pietro, or a Sangiovese di Romagna Riserva. From other parts of Italy drink a fruity Piemontese Gattinara, a Merlot from the Veneto, or a Salice Salentine Rosso of Apulia.
"Vegetables are perishable, so we don't have any indication of what they looked like 500 years ago," says James Nienhuis, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin.