A “Top Chef” Winner Shares His Recipe for Italian-Style BBQ Ribs
How to make the pork “pampanella” ribs that Joe Flamm serves at his new restaurant in Chicago
Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary grows prevalently along the coastlines of Italy and Croatia; the herb’s Latin name translates to “dew of the sea.”
When Chicago-based chef Joe Flamm, the winner of Season 15 of Top Chef on Bravo, was looking for a name for his new restaurant focusing on the culinary middle ground between Italy and Croatia, he took notice. It also didn’t hurt the cause that Flamm, whose wife has Croatian roots, had an Irish grandmother named Rose and an Italian grandmother named Mary. Put all that together and you get Rose Mary, a Fulton Market restaurant serving up a menu of what Flamm calls “Adriatic drinking food.”
One of the dishes on the menu, pork ribs pampanella, was first introduced to Flamm while he was cooking under chef Tony Mantuano at Michelin-starred eatery Spiaggia and looking for an under-the-radar dish from Italy to put on the restaurant’s rotating regional menu.
A classic street food hailing from Grandma Mary’s old stomping grounds in the region of Molise, pampanella consists of cuts of pork cooked with sweet and hot peppers, paprika, garlic and vinegar. Named for the pampini vine leaves it used to be cooked in, pampanella, which is somewhat of an Italian take on BBQ, is one of the only things that puts Molise on the map.
“Molise is a place that’s not known for much,” Flamm tells InsideHook. “To have something that’s so regional and specific to that area is very, very, interesting. It’s like having a super-specific dish from a weird, small part of Oklahoma. Molise is a really small place and there’s not a lot from there. This is the one thing from a place that’s not super well-known. It was a hard place to find dishes from.”
But find a dish he did — and it is a doozy.
“Pampanella is almost like a barbecue there. It’s something that you do on a big Sunday or for a special event like a christening or a graduation,” Flamm says. “In Molise they just do large pieces of pork rubbed in paprika and vinegar cooked slowly in parchment. It’s kind of like this slow-cooked, sticky, bright, paprika-y, barbecue-type food. It’s like barbecue because of the spices and the way it’s cooked. Paprika isn’t typical of Italian cooking. That’s why it’s different.”
Served with a slaw of cabbage and radicchio and dressed with yogurt and lemon juice, the pampanella that Flamm makes at Rose Mary is rubbed with paprika and garlic, splashed with vinegar and confited in pork fat before being finished on the grill. To spice things up even further, the ribs are wiped down with a sweet-and-sour sauce made with honey and chiles.
“The thing that really makes it stand out at the restaurant is the Calabrian chili agrodolce,” Flamm says. “We slow-cook the Calabrian chilis down with vinegar and sugar. It becomes a sweet, sour, spicy sauce. And that’s what really sets off the ribs. Calabrian chilis aren’t crazy hot, but it’s pretty spicy. We worked on the recipe over the course of about six months. We dry it overnight. Then we cook it in pork fat at the restaurant for a day and let it chill before we put it down and grill it. We have a big charcoal hearth here. It takes us about two days to make it.”
How long will it take you? Considerably less. Here’s a recipe adjusted for home use.
Chef Joe Flamm’s Pork Pampanella Ribs
- 1 rack baby back ribs
- 1 T fennel pollen
- 2 tsp hungarian paprika
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp dry oregano
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 oz honey
- 1 T calabrian chiles, diced
- Preheat smoker or grill to 300 degrees.
- Mix all dry ingredients and rub over ribs.
- Smoke or grill ribs for 1.5 hours, then pull off and drizzle with olive oil.
- Wrap in foil and cook for another 1.5 hours or until tender.
- Mix honey and Calabrian chilis in a small pan and bring to a quick boil. Turn off heat and let steep for 5 minutes
- Drizzle ribs with honey and chili mixture.
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