When Bryan Caswell opened Houston's Stella Sola restaurant last fall, few knew what to expect from a menu that combined Italian cuisine with Texas traditions. But those familiar with the chef's acclaimed seafood restaurant Reef recognized his trademark flair for bold flavors and devotion to top-quality ingredients. Caswell's country-style pork ribs show how well even the most incongruous inspirations can come together in the right hands. He rubs the ribs with fennel seeds and pairs them with a decidedly Texan take on pesto made from smoky jalapeño peppers.
Country-Style Pork Ribs with Jalapeño Pesto
Recipe Adapted from Bryan Caswell, Stella Sola, Houston
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 celery ribs, diced (about 1 cup)
1 large fennel bulb, diced
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, divided
10 country-style bone-in pork ribs
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ cup fennel seeds, coarsely ground in a spice grinder
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 jalapeño pepper--roasted, skinned, seeded and chopped
1 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 large shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Combine the celery, fennel, onion and two of the garlic cloves on a rimmed baking sheet. Place a wire rack over the vegetables and set the baking sheet aside.
2. Rub the ribs with 2 tablespoons of the grapeseed oil and season liberally with salt, pepper and ground fennel seed. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil in a large skillet until the oil just begins to shimmer. Working in batches, cook the ribs over medium-high heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes, then turn the ribs over and cook until the other side is brown, another 1 to 2 minutes longer. Arrange the ribs in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, transfer to the oven and roast until cooked through, about 35 to 40 minutes.
3. While ribs are baking, make the pesto: Place the pine nuts, jalapeño, parsley, basil, shallot, Pecorino and the remaining garlic clove in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until a smooth paste forms. With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil through the feed chute. Season the pesto with salt, pepper and lemon zest, then transfer to a serving bowl.
4. To serve, arrange the roasted vegetables on a platter. Top with the ribs and serve with the jalapeño pesto on the side.