I remember the summer we decided to buy a pressure cooker while on a family holiday in the Marche, circa 1994-1995 with my in-laws and my husband and our young children all oohing and aaahing. I had finally relented and invested in one, giving in to the pressure, excuse my pun, of dozens of friends’ (including male friends) recommendations on the unlimited culinary possibilities of a pressure cooker. I have to admit that my reticence had been prompted not just by my distrust of its infernal hissing sound and fear of an apocalyptic kitchen explosion but also by an aesthetic objection to the object per se: I thought a pressure cooker smacked vaguely of the 1960s or early 1970s cooking that came with a hausfrau housewife. In other words, to me a pressure cooker was a sexy as Scholls wooden clogs whereas I thought of myself much more in the kitten heels department … I had long banished any frumpiness from my worldview of the kitchen.
I can’t for the life of me remember what actual dish we cooked with the pressure cooker the very first time … but many years down the road I am now a reformed, and no longer closet, enthusiast of this wonderful contraption. To the point of owning two of them. The one dish I refuse to cook on principle in a pressure cooker is a risotto — but many people do!
Anyway, last week my son was coming home from uni in England and I wanted to cook him something he loved — and he loves polenta with spuntature sauce, which translates as a tomato sauce made with spare ribs and sausages and which can take a good two hours to cook in the traditional earthenware saucepan, be it on the stove top or in the oven. It is definitely worth the effort.
That evening, however, I did not have two hours to play with to make the sauce and so I resorted to my trusty pressure cooker: 30 minutes cooking time! The meat was as tender as can be and the taste was nothing to scoff at either! I have to be perfectly honest, nevertheless, and insist that this sauce is EVEN better slow-cooked in an earthenware/terracotta saucepan. But, as our good friend Claudio Serrini never fails to impress upon me, ‘L’ottimo è spesso nemico del buono’ … which is a saying that goes along the lines of: aiming for plain ‘good’ is often better than chasing after ‘best’. My son got to eat a ‘good’ spuntatura sauce as opposed to the ‘best’ sauce for his polenta … but it was still definitely better than none.
Okay on with the recipe now …
Ingredients: garlic, spare ribs, sausages, plum tomatoes or fresh tomatoes … bay leaves or rosemary or any other herb of your choice.
The meat is browned in some olive oil first, to which I add some garlic and two bay leaves and my favourite: some black peppercorns.
Start by cooking the spare ribs first. Sprinkle some salt and pepper and brown in batches.
Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon and make sure, for safety’s sake, that the level of foods and liquid is well within the indicated bounds of the pressure cooker (in this case, if you look, it is two inches below the limit).
Then, when the 30 minutes were up, I switched the heat off the pressure cooker and waited for it to cool down before taking the lid off.
And this is what I found. A little disappointing in looks … a little ‘watery’ if you know what I mean. So I got hold of a ladle and put some of the sauce, without the meat, into a smaller saucepan ….
The polenta mops up the sauce beautifully and it is traditional to sprinkle freshly grated pecorino cheese over the meat and sauce to add that extra je ne sais quoi. You can add some chilli too if you like your food on the spicy side. And last, for those of you (including my daughter) who can’t stand polenta or have a quibble with its texture … you can always substitute it with boiled potatoes.
P.S. You can use any left over sauce to make pasta the following day … or freeze it even!