Spare Rib Ragu Is a Delicious Way to Fatten Yourself Up for Winter

Jonathan Waxman shares one of the recipes from the just-released “Barbuto Cookbook"

September 30, 2020 8:07 am
spare rib ragu
Jonathan Waxman’s spare rib ragu pasta from “The Barbuto Cookbook”
Jen Davidson/Abrams

When asked to think of places we’d head to eat spare ribs prior to 2020 — back when going out to eat anywhere was a thing — barbecue joints and Chinese restaurants would have been the answer(s) for most of us.

But for chef Jonathan Waxman, the man behind West Village dining spot Barbuto, Milan is the destination that comes to mind, because it was in a restaurant just outside that city that he had Italian-style spare ribs for the first time.

“We ate this thing and I said, ‘How the hell do they make them?’ So I went back to the restaurant and tried to figure it out,” Waxman, who just released The Barbuto Cookbook, tells InsideHook. “They put on a little salt and pepper rub like we do in America and aged it for a day or two. Then they roasted it in the oven, took it out and braised it in pork stock with tomatoes, onions and carrots. Then they took it out, reduced down the sauce and grilled it. Then they put the sauce on. That was how they made the ribs.”

Waxman liked the Italian take on spare ribs enough that he began serving them at Barbuto, eventually deciding to take the meat off the bone and toss it with strozzapreti pasta.

“Strozzapreti is the size of spaghetti, but it’s really curly. When you cook it, because it’s curly, it really picks up the sauce,” Waxman says. “It’s just a wonderful pasta and a little unusual. Strozzapreti literally means ‘to choke a priest.’ Priests are gluttonous and, because this pasta is like the best pasta you could possibly eat, they gorge themselves to the point of choking.”

Chef Jonathan Waxman’s “The Barbuto Cookbook” is out now.

Waxman’s recipe for the dish, which took him about a year to perfect, features ingredients like paprika, garlic and red wine. But he says an oft-overlooked additive is the key piece: cumin.

“Cumin is a sexy ingredient. That’s the thing that makes it a little bit American,” Waxman says. “Italians would never use it, but cumin is an essential part of barbecue. Barbecue can’t be barbecue without cumin and garlic. Cumin just gives that little bit of flair, that when you taste it, you go, ‘What is that? What is that spice?’ I love that. I love stumping people. Cumin is special.”

As for the paprika, make sure it is smoked. “I don’t really care what kind of red wine you use. I don’t really care what kind of garlic, I don’t care what kind of onions,”  Waxman says. “The smoked paprika is important. You have to make sure you get smoked paprika, not the other kind. I like doing things that are a little unusual, but all the ingredients are straightforward. There’s nothing crazy about them. It’s the combinations. That, to me, sort of makes my mark. That’s what I feel strongly about.”

Without further ado, here’s Waxman’s recipe for spare rib ragu pasta from The Barbuto Cookbook.

Well, one more thing. “Make sure to cook the spare ribs in the liquid long enough,” Waxman says. “The reason spare ribs get tough is they’re not cooked long enough. Just follow the recipe. It says three hours and it sounds like a long time, but trust me, you need to do three hours. Don’t take them out too soon.”

Jonathan Waxman’s Spare-Rib Ragu


  • 2 racks baby back ribs
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (plus more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 onion (peeled and left whole)
  • 3 cloves garlic (peeled and left whole)
  • 2 cups (480 ml) red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 ounces (340 g) strozzapretti
  • 1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 ounce (85 g) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups water


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C). 
  2. Rub the ribs with the salt, cumin, pepper and paprika. Put in a roasting pan and roast until dark brown, about 1 hour. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). 
  3. Add the onion, garlic, wine, water and bay leaves to the roasting pan, cover and continue to roast for 3 hours. 
  4. Remove the meat and scoop out the onions and garlic with a slotted spoon and reserve; let cool. When cool, remove the bones and discard. 
  5. Chop the meat and the onions and garlic, place in a saucepan and cook over low heat for 30–40 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and everything is saucy. 
  6. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente and drain, reserving 3 tablespoons of pasta water. Place the pasta in a serving bowl, add 3 cups (720 ml) of the pork sauce, and toss well. Add both cheeses, the butter, and the 3 tablespoons of reserved pasta water and toss again. Season with salt and serve in the bowl. (Serves four.)


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