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Let us now braise great ribs

(ran NP, ST editions)

In the United States, ribs tend to be summer food: We grill 'em. But in much of the rest of the world, they have been braised more often than not.

When braising, of course, you sacrifice the crisp crust that is such a big part of the appeal of grilled meat.

But look at all you gain: flexibility in timing (you can braise far in advance), a cooking process that needs little attention, guaranteed tenderness and the ability to integrate vegetables of all varieties into the dish.

Not to mention the fact that, to braise, you don't have to go outside.

Traditional European winter braises with ribs often include cabbage or root vegetables. In southern Italy, ribs and cabbage are teamed with the classic combination of garlic, chilies and bay leaves; farther north, you see ribs with caraway seeds or juniper berries and a variety of root vegetables.

Regardless of the ingredients, the treatment is about the same: The ribs are browned, then removed. The cabbage is browned in its turn, along with other vegetables if you like, and cooked with the meat and a liquid such as white wine. (Stock is also good, and water is perfectly acceptable.) By the time the ribs are tender, the cabbage is soft and creamy.

The dish may not be elegant, but it is heavenly.

You can use any kind of ribs you like in this braise. Good meaty spareribs remain inexpensive and are always a good option. But the somewhat pricier baby back ribs will become tender a little more quickly, as will "country style" ribs, which are actually cross-cut shoulder chops.

Braised Spareribs With Cabbage

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 or more dried red chilies, like serrano

3 to 4 pounds spareribs, cut into individual ribs, excess fat removed

Salt and pepper to taste

3 bay leaves

1 head cabbage, savoy (preferred) or white, 1{ to 2 pounds, cored and shredded

1 cup dry white wine

Chopped fresh parsley leaves

Time: About 90 minutes.

Put olive oil in a large, deep skillet or casserole that can be covered, and turn heat to high. A minute later, add garlic and chilies. When they sizzle, add ribs, meatier side down; sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add bay leaves.

Cook, adjusting heat so the meat browns, 5 to 10 minutes. Turn ribs, and brown again. Remove ribs to a plate.

Pour off excess fat, and add cabbage and some more salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage browns. Add wine, and stir to release any brown bits stuck to bottom of pan.

Return ribs to pot; adjust heat so mixture simmers steadily but not violently, and cover.

Cook, checking occasionally to be sure the mixture does not dry out. (If it does, add more white wine or water.)

When ribs are tender and cabbage is very soft _ this will take at least 45 minutes _ uncover. If mixture is soupy, turn heat to high, and cook, stirring occasionally and carefully, until it is more of a moist stew.

Garnish with parsley and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day before reheating.

Yield: 4 servings.