Tony Mantuano has long been a fixture of Italian cooking in Chicago, ever since he opened Spiaggia, to great acclaim, 35 years ago. To this day, the restaurant continues to deliver fine Italian cuisine—it's maintained a Michelin star for nine years, and Tony has won a James Beard Award for his work in the kitchen.
If you can't make it to Chicago, you can still catch Tony doing his thing on the second season of Top Chef Masters. While his free time is scarce, we got a chance to talk with Tony about one of his favorite recipes passed down from his grandmother. Here's what he had to say.
"The recipe that is truly important to me—and is not in the least fancy-pants—is Nonna Mantuano's braised pork neck bones with garden tomatoes and Romano beans. It tells the story of my grandparents. My grandfather was a butcher and brought the family the cuts of meat he couldn't sell. Butcher's children don't eat steak! Sweet garden tomatoes, with the meaty-textured Romano beans simmering in a garlic-enhanced sauce on the stove, is an aroma that always returns me to my childhood.
"Either married with pasta or eaten as is, this dish connects me to my family's past. The neck bones are some of the most sweet and flavorful to braise. The Romano beans, or, as we called them, Italian beans, lend themselves well to a proper braise. The beans absorb the flavors in the pot, yet have a taste and texture that make them irresistibly delicious. The dish is not complete without a good dusting of aged Pecorino Romano cheese, briny in taste, with just enough pungency to bring everything together."
Nonna Mantuano's Braised Pork Neck Bones With Garden Tomatoes and Romano Beans
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 3 1/2 hours
Yield: Serves 6
3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 pound (450g) pork neck bones
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds (900g) fresh San Marzano tomatoes, cored and halved
2 pounds (900g) fresh Romano beans, trimmed (see note)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound (450g) rigatoni pasta (optional)
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for finishing
1. In a Dutch oven or large lidded saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and pork neck bones, then season with salt and pepper.
2. Cook, flipping often, until bones are browned all over, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add tomatoes and juices to pot. Stir to combine and scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom. Cover and simmer over low heat for 2 hours.
3. Add Romano beans and oregano. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for another hour, until sauce has reduced slightly and Romano beans are tender.
4. To serve, place in a large bowl and top with a generous amount of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
To Serve With Pasta (optional):
1. Just before the sauce is finished, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes less than what the package advises.
2. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup (120ml) starchy pasta-cooking water.
3. Drain pasta and return it to cooking pot.
4. Return pot to stove. Over low heat, add the pork neck bone and Romano bean sauce, along with the starchy pasta water, and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes or until pasta is al dente and pasta water has emulsified into the sauce so the noodles are well coated.
5. To serve, place pasta on a large platter and top with a generous amount of grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Note: If you can't find fresh Romano beans, use frozen Romano beans, pole beans, or green beans.
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