Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stracotto, Italian-style beef stew

This is the Italian version of boeuf bourguignon or beef stew.  Stracotto” means “extra cooked,” or “well cooked,” an apt description of a long-simmered dish.  Unlike boeuf bourguignon, for which the meat is cubed and browned prior to braising, all the ingredients for stracotto are dumped into the pot, brought to a simmer, then stewed slowly until the meat is tender. 

There are many, many dishes in my family’s Italian and Italian-American repertoire, but this isn’t one of them.  Perhaps surprisingly, my grandmothers would have made more conventional American-style beef stew, rather than this decidedly Florentine piatto.  And perhaps that’s the reason: this is a Tuscan dish, and like balsamic vinegar, basil pesto, and parmigiano reggiano cheese, they were not well known in the southern Italian kitchen, and likely would not have emigrated to the US in the same way that mozzarella, provolone, pecorino romano, and rag├╣ alla napoletana did. 

A 3-lb beef chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat, and cut up into 1-inch cubes.
Olive oil
2 medium onions, slices
A few cloves garlic
Salt & pepper
Optional: thyme, bay leaf
Most of a bottle of dry red Italian wine, like a Chianti

Beef, onions, just barely covered with red wine.

Film the bottom of a sturdy Dutch oven with olive oil.  Add beef, season it well, then onions and garlic.  Add wine until the meat is very nearly covered.   Though most recipes one sees don't call for it, I think a bit of thyme and a bay leaf make a fine addition to the preparation. 

Bring to a simmer, cover, then place in a 325°F oven for about 3 hours until the meat is very tender. 

To thicken, add a few teaspoons of cornstarch or flour mixed with water, and stir over heat until thickened. 

Serve with buttered noodles, gnocchi, polenta, or buttered boiled potatoes.  

 Stracotto fiorentino, served with potato gnocchi tossed in butter and sage.

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