“Chocolate, the ‘food of the gods,’ conquered not just the candy shop, but also the kitchen.” – Riccardo Magni
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Are you a chocolate lover? I sure am. I have the added benefit of living in a part of New Jersey that is home to one of the world’s most famous chocolate makers. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the aroma of chocolate to blanket the entire town well into the wee hours of the morning. Since chocolate is literally in the air here – the constant reminder of it has inspired me to go beyond the sweet, dessert-like, recipes to create something savory with all the feel-good comforts that Winter beckons.
Today I’m sharing a family favorite, Rigatoni with Dark Cocoa + Short Rib Ragu. If you’ve never added dark cocoa to your savory tomato and wine-based recipes, you are in for a real treat!
Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a chocolate-y or sweet pasta dish, it’s absolutely not. Not even close. Savory and enchanting? Absolutely.
Are you reading this and thinking I’ve lost my mind? I assure you, I haven’t. Well, actually, that might depend on who you ask! As for adding chocolate to this recipe though, trust me on this. If you are familiar with authentic Italian cuisine, cooking with cocoa is probably not foreign to you, the Italians have been doing it for centuries. The same with authentic Mexican fare, as chocolate is used to make mole sauce.
Because the cocoa bean is quite bitter on its own, it is rightfully considered a spice (or, as referred to by the Farmer’s Almanac, a Sweetheart Spice) – though it is quite underrepresented in the kitchen other than when it is sweetened for desserts. Tsk-tsk.
Dark, unsweetened, cocoa when combined with the robust flavors of beef broth, red wine, tomato puree and then set to braise for a few hours with seasoned short ribs, adds a delicate richness and depth of color, and perfectly balances out the acidity of the other ingredients.
I garnish my Rigatoni with Dark Cocoa + Short Rib Ragu with a teaspoon of shavings of extra bittersweet cacao and it immediately melts into the silky tomato and wine ragu, almost disappearing completely when mixing in with the short ribs. It’s a quiet addition, its presence is subtle. I like to add the chocolate garnish right at the table, it’s always a conversation piece for those who have never had it before!
This savory dish is perfect for a cold Winter’s night, along with a glass of your favorite red.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
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Rigatoni with Dark Cocoa + Short Rib Ragu
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces chopped pancetta
3 pounds short ribs (I used boneless)
Kosher salt and pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose unbleached organic flour
1 medium onion, quartered
1/2 cup organic parsley leaves
2 cloves of garlic
1 (14-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes, whole or diced (or use half of 28-ounce can)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 bay leaf
2 and 1/2 cups beef stock
3/4 cup dry red wine (don’t worry if you use a little more, that’s for good measure)
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch blend, I use Saco brand)
12-ounce Rigatoni pasta
70% Cacao Extra Bittersweet Chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
NOTE: You will need a large pot, like this one.
- Over medium heat, add olive oil to large 7-quart or larger pot, like a Dutch or French oven. Cook pancetta until it begins to crisp, stirring occasionally, about 5-6 minutes or so;
- In the meantime, generously season the short ribs with salt and pepper and dredge in flour, shaking off any excess. Remove the pancetta by using a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the short ribs to the pan and cook until browned on all sides, total 7-8 minutes;
- In a food processor, pulse the parsley and garlic together until well minced. Add the tomatoes and paste and pulse to puree;
- Add the food processor contents to the pot with the browned short ribs. Add the pancetta back to the pot, stir to combine. Add the rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, beef stock, red wine and unsweetened Dutched cocoa powder, stir to combine and bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover with a fitted lid for 1 hour and 15 minutes;
- Remove the lid and simmer for another 1 hour and 30 minutes, stirring only occasionally. Remove the meat from the pot. If you used bone-in short ribs, make sure to remove any bones that might have fallen away from the meat and discard. Shred the meat (use two forks to pull the meat apart) and return to the pot. Taste and season, only if necessary, with additional salt and pepper;
- In a large pot over high heat, bring salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, making sure to cook until al dente (tender, but still firm to the bite). Drain the pasta but reserve approximately 1 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the pot with the short ribs, stirring gently to combine. If more moisture is needed, add a little pasta water, about 1/4 cup at a time.
- Transfer the pasta and short ribs to serving bowls. Garnish each bowl with approximately 1 teaspoon of extra bittersweet chocolate shavings. Serve while hot and pair with a glass of red wine.
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