Monday, June 11, 2007

Tuscan Chianti Beef Stew – Stracotto al Chianti Toscano

Our cooking buddies have a communal cellar. Like most of us they have been accumulating wines over the past 10 years. Recently we realized that some of the vintages were beginning to get up there in years. This is a good thing for complex wines but many of these wines are great dinner wines that should not be aged. We had already lost a couple of bottles to Alzheimer’s disease. We decided to check the cellar list and found that there were many 10+ year bottles of Chianti.


A wine that has aged too long is not a pleasure to drink but we feel it is a sin to pour them out. The search began for traditional recipes with Chianti. A couple of emails later and Stracotto al Chianti became our recipe for the day. I had never had this dish but further research revealed that this recipe is widely used in Tuscany. As I scanned the ingredients I realized that by making this dish I risked the wrath of Raffaella. The ingredients will add a touch of sweet to the sauce; something she does not like. Fortunately she was not in the kitchen while I put this together. About an hour into the preparation she tasted the sauce. Her face clouded as she stated emphatically, “This is sweet!”

The interrogation began about the ingredients and the preparation. Her mood remained decidedly upset as I explained the ingredients and the process. The dreaded declaration arrived, “You know I do not like sweet sauces with meat.”

William Congreve wrote:

Heav'n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn'd,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn'd.


What great insight from the 1600s.

Do not despair, as the sauce progresses, the flavors balance. While the sauce does not take on a spicy flavor, it is not sweet. The sauce is marvelously delicate. It is the perfect accompaniment to the savory meat that melts in your mouth.

Ingredients:

2 lbs Beef Stew meat cut into 1” cubes
Flour (to coat meat)
1 bottle 750 ml Chianti
1 cups beef broth
1 stick (114 g) Butter
2 tbs. Olive Oil
1 finely chopped large Onion
1 medium finely chopped Carrot
2 tbs. Raisins
2 tbs. Finely chopped Almonds
10 peppercorns
2 tbs. Finely chopped Pine nuts (Pinoli)
2 tbs. chopped Italian Parsley
1 clove crushed Garlic
Salt to taste

Preparation:

In a heavy pot clarify the butter over high heat.

Place the flour on a plate. Cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and coat the cubes in flour. Set the cubes aside on a baking pan.

Add the onion and carrots. Sauté the carrots and onion for about 2 minutes. Add the olive oil to the pot.

Sear the meat cubes in the hot butter. Do not over fill the pot. Place only the meat cubes to fill the bottom of the pot. Stir them once or twice to sear all sides. Remove the seared cubes, place them on the baking pan and continue with other cubes until all the cubes have been seared.

Once all of the cubes have been seared and removed from the pot add about a cup of wine to deglaze the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining ingredients and another cup of wine. Reduce the sauce for about 4 minutes.

Add the meat back into the sauce and cover with the remaining wine and broth. Once the liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to low (simmer only) and cover.

Cook for 2 ½ hours, stirring every 20 minutes.

Remove the cover, turn the heat to medium low and cook for the remaining 30 minutes to reduce the sauce.

Serve over white rice, Parmesan Risotto, Gnocchi or Fresh Pasta.

Chianti is the wine of choice. We opened a Querciavalle 1997. For those with this wine in their cellar, it is time to drink this wine.

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