Beef Stew, a quintessential Winter dish, has as many variations as there are cooks. It is a comfort food that can be simple and satisfying or elegant and complex. The process is time-consuming, but the results are worth it.
I have so many memories of my mother’s cooking, but there isn’t a single one of stew. Chicken Cacciatore came closest, but that’s technically braising. My first adventure or memory for that matter, of stew was making Beef Bourguignon after watching Julia Child. I’ve made this recipe for years, but I wanted something different, so I went about putting an Italian spin on things.
Could I be breaking new ground here? Of course not. Stew goes back to ancient times, including the Romans. I did find a traditional recipe for “Peposo” a dish from Florence featuring chunks of beef, lots of black pepper, and red wine. It was invented back in the 14th century by tile makers who put these ingredients into terra-cotta pots and cooked it by the heat of the furnace. My beef stew incorporates Peposo’s ingredients and oh, so much more.My wine of choice was Sangiovese, considered by many to be the King of Italian wine grapes. It’s the principle wine in Chianti. Usually fruity but with noticeable acidity and tannins, It can hold its own in this stew as well as on the table.
The beef was Chuck Eye Roast. This is lean and tender as chuck cuts go. The muscles are fairly large and can be cut up without too much difficulty. Read that as those pesky membranes are few and loose enough to be dispatched quickly. Cutting the meat yourself will save you money and allow you to cut the pieces the size you want. I like to eat my stew with a spoon and/or fork so I opted for one and a half-inch pieces.
I used bacon because I like the smokieness of it, but pancetta would work well and probably be more Italian. The bacon provided the fat to brown the meat, done in batches so that they would brown instead of steam.
Then came the Sofritto. My understanding of Soffrito is that while traditionally it’s the same flavor base as its French cousin, Mirepoix, it can be any combination of aromatics, and since I’m not a fan of celery, I chose to use onions, garlic, and carrots. I chopped up a good size sprig of fresh rosemary, added some fennel seeds and red pepper flakes and rounded out the aromatics with bay leaf and lemon zest.
All of this went into the dutch oven now beautifully coated with brown bits. A little tomato paste and more than a little wine to de-glaze the pan and I was well on my way to creating stewing magic.The beef goes back in along with some beef stock, water and a little more wine if you dare. Bring it up to a simmer, cover it and pop it in a low oven (325 degrees.) In order to get the meat tender and not over cook the vegetables, let the beef cook for about an hour.
When the time was right, I added the vegetables that take the longest to cook. In this case, it was yellow onions, carrots and lots of sliced garlic. I opted to add the cremini mushrooms a little bit later since they cook more quickly.
The stew cooked for about two and a half hours. When it came out of the oven, the meat was tender, the vegetables were cooked, but still identifiable, and the sauce was slightly thickened and smelled like heaven. (there are worse things you could imagine heaven smelling like).
It was now time to guild the lily. I added some sliced Kalamata olives, parsley, and fresh lemon juice. The olives added an interesting taste and texture. The acidity of the lemon juice did wonders for refining the richness of the sauce, and the parsley was pretty.
It’s always nice to have some kind of starch to serve with the stew. The sauce is wonderful and it would be a shame to leave it in the bottom of the bowl. I decided to use Farro.
Some shavings of Pecorino Romano and a dusting of parsley and it was ready to serve. It was wonderful the first time, but the second day it was amazing.
This was worth the time it took to prepare. I’m afraid Julia’s Beouf will have to move over, Mama D’s Manzo is joining the club.