Yes, you read that right. There’s chocolate in this main dish! Chocolate and crisp, salty pancetta. This meal, which takes full advantage of many flavors, is most certainly a feast day meal.
And this might be the right time of the year to bring more beef back onto the menu. For some of us, meat has sustained us through a tough winter. For others, and for traditional cultures, maybe there have been a few weeks of cutting back and giving up the things we love most.
After all, did you know that the word “carnival” (the mardi gras kind of carnival that happens before Lent) has been thought to mean “goodbye to meat”?
A popular explanation for the word’s origin is that the “carni” part came from the same root as “carnivore,” and the “val” part comes from “vale,” a Latin farewell (pronounced “voll-ay”).
So, the idea was that the big carnival leading up to Lent was a way of saying goodbye to meat and other enjoyments for 40 days. However, that isn’t technically how the word carnival came about, and the real explanation has more to do with Roman mythology and Valentine’s Day. I’d say the popular explanation is much more memorable. (More on the real explanation here.)
Easter celebrates life–new life–and with that, we again embrace the nourishment that sustains life.
So this rich, savory dish is certainly a fitting meal to grace the table. Whether it is the Easter meal itself or another festive meal you enjoy during the Easter weekend while your guests are visiting, it is certainly something different, summoning flavors guests may not have not tried before.
As for the chocolate flavor: think chocolate stout, not chocolate Easter bunny. This dish is not sweet. Instead, the chocolate complicates the experience, adding depth and richness with its bitter yet unmistakable taste of cocoa.
The first step with this dish is to make a very good broth to surround the beef as it simmers. To make the rich broth, each step takes place in the same pan so that no trace of flavor is lost. You mince a blend of onions, shallots and other vegetables and sauté them in the pancetta drippings. You use wine to deglaze the pan, leaving the delicious browned bits to add their precious flavor to the sauce.
Once you have the broth, you return the pancetta to the pan, add herbs and the ribs and let everything mingle for two hours or more, giving you and your guests the chance to mingle, too, as you welcome them and welcome Easter.
- ⅛ cup diced pancetta
- 2-3 pounds short ribs (bone-in)
- ¾ cup minced onions
- ⅛ cup each: minced shallots, minced celery, minced carrots
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1½ cups beef broth
- 1 cup diced canned tomatoes, drained
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 small bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- 1½ tablespoons grated bittersweet baking chocolate
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 pound farfalline pasta (or penne, farfalle, etc.), cooked
- Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat and add the pancetta. Saute until crisp, then scoop the pancetta with a slotted spoon and let it drain on a paper towel.
- Leave the pancetta drippings in the pan, and brown the ribs in this pan over medium-high heat. Once you have browned the ribs on all sides, transfer them to a plate.
- Add onions, shallots, carrots, celery and garlic to pan and cook until soft. Pour in the wine and boil, uncovered, until half the liquid has boiled off (about 5 minutes). Scrape up any browned bits.
- Add broth, pancetta, tomatoes, dried herbs, parsley, bay leaf and ribs. Simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour, then uncover and simmer 1 more hour, stirring occasionally. At the end of this time, rib meat should be quite tender.
- Move the ribs to a plate, fish out the bay leaf and discard, and boil the sauce to thicken for 5-8 minutes.
- Turn down the heat, add chocolate cocoa and rosemary and stir, melting the chocolate. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Return ribs to pot and cook on low heat until heated through.
- If desired, cut the ribs into segments.
- Serve over cooked pasta.