With limited access to the grocery store, I chose a recipe for a boneless chuck roast that required no more than what I already had on hand. Onions, a few herbs, a little tomato paste, and some white wine.
The recipe from Epicurious.com first appeared in the January 2005 issue of Gourmet magazine and, given its simplicity, it yielded, much to my surprise, one of the best pot roasts I’ve ever had either at home or in a restaurant.
This Saint Patrick’s Day was the first time I ever made corned beef and cabbage. Its debut at our table can only be attributed to our supermarket’s almost giving it away at a ridiculously low price and my better-half’s sneaking it into our grocery cart.
Being Italian and having attended a predominantly Irish parochial school in the 50s, I remember that Saint Patrick’s Day typically led to some kind of minor altercation between the Irish majority and the Italian minority, with the latter opting to celebrate their saint’s day, Saint Joseph, two days later on the 19th.
Even though our San Diego winters are nothing like those we experienced while living in New York City, they are nonetheless chillier and darker than our only other season “spring-summer-fall” and we find ourselves gravitating to hibernal fare like braises and stews. So with the arrival of daylight-saving time this weekend, I thought we’d have our last hurrah for winter cooking: a long braise of beef with loads of onions, anchovies, and green olives along with tomatoes and a full bottle of red wine.
“Best.” In the six years that I’ve been writing this blog, I don’t think I’ve used the word too often. But after preparing the recipe for Braised Oxtails with White Beans, Tomatoes, and Aleppo Pepper from “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS, the subject of today’s post, I believe it ranks among the best dishes I’ve ever prepared. In fact, I can easily say that I’ve never made a better braise in all my years of cooking.
Slow and steady, so they say, wins the race. A perfect example is Marcella Hazan’s Ragu Bolognese, which requires six hours of simmering to yield “when clinging to the folds of homemade noodles,” to quote Marcella, “one of the most satisfying experiences accessible to the sense of taste.” But when you’re really hungry, especially after a nerve-racking day, sometimes quick and easy is the way to go.
“Not with a Bang but a Whimper” might well be an apt title for this post on Jamie Oliver’s “Bangin’ Beef Stew,” from his 5 Ingredients cookbook, which promised much bang but delivered little. Don’t get me wrong, the stew was not a disaster, but rather a rough disappointment.
A great sale on beef short ribs at my local Whole Foods triggered our Sunday supper. After returning home from the market, I started to look for recipes and found one I thought would be perfect for a late-summer night, Jacques Pepin’s “Beef Short Rib, Mushroom, and Potato Stew.” The fact that it utilized a pressure cooker made it especially appealing, as we were having a bit of a heat wave. I made another trip to the market to pick up the potatoes and dried shiitake mushrooms called for by the recipe. Back home, as my husband was unpacking the shopping bag, he asked what the mushrooms were for. When I told him, he looked a bit perplexed and said: “Didn’t you write that one up already?” I searched my blog and, sure enough, I had done a post on the dish last year.
Another cook-book search for a recipe that wouldn’t require another walk to the market (We don’t have a car.) yielded one that could use the just-purchased potatoes and didn’t call for anything I didn’t already have on hand. The source was Mark Bittman’s tome How To Cook Everything; the recipe, “Short Ribs Braised with Potatoes and Mustard.”
Sunflowers brought home by husband from our local farmers market evoked intimations of Tuscany that motivated me to prepare the subject of today’s post, peposo, a peppery Tuscan beef stew with a long history.
Every so often, our local grocery store gives away something for free; sometimes it’s a protein bar; other times, a can of soup. The most recent giveaway was a kielbasa, which coincided serendipitously with the publication of a recipe for Hasselback Kielbasa on the New York Times “Cooking” website.
The site’s stunning photo of the dish, along with the above confluence of events, pulled me from my typical traditional stance in the kitchen to give this recipe a try. With so few ingredients involved, most of them, including the kielbasa, already on hand, there wasn’t too much at risk.
For the longest time, I’ve been wanting to make oxtails like the ones I enjoyed years ago on my first trip to Rome. It was in that city’s Testaccio district that I had coda alla vaccinara, a dense stew of oxtails braised with vegetables, primarily celery, tomatoes, and white wine.
The Testaccio was the location for Rome’s slaughterhouse from 1888 to 1975. Here the need to use every part of an animal led to the district’s reputation for offal, or in Italian, the quinto quarto, the fifth quarter. The best known dishes of the variety include pajata, veal intestines; trippa alla Romana, tripe, and the subject of today’s post coda alla vaccinara. All dishes that are associated with Italy’s cucina povera, or peasant cooking.
I looked through a number of cookbooks for a recipe and found some excellent ones in Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Popes, Peasants, and Shepherds (the most authentic), David Downie’s Cooking the Roman Way, and Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook. Ultimately, however, I chose a recipe by Amanda Hesser in the New York Times. It seemed the most straightforward; though I did modify it with elements from the other recipes, for example increasing the amount of celery and onion or adding raisins during the last hour of braising.
The dish required at least 30 minutes of prep and more than 3 hours of cooking. And there were some hiccups along the way. Lacking marjoram (either fresh or dried), I substituted fresh oregano. Increasing the amount of onion and carrot required using a bit more oil than called for; my pancetta being somewhat lean didn’t render enough fat to thoroughly brown the oxtails; my soffritto (diced onions, carrots, celery and pancetta) always looked like it was about to burn. Nevertheless, the end result was exceptional. A richly flavored thick sauce, with hints of cinnamon and cloves, coated succulent fall-of-the bone pieces of meat accompanied by silky slivers of celery.
As I was cooking for two, I used a little less than two pounds of meat; however, I kept close to the original amounts of the recipes other ingredients. Fortunately, doing so yielded plenty of left over sauce for pasta later this week.
Finally, don’t be tempted to substitute red wine for the white. The latter allows the flavors of the meat and the celery to take center stage.
Oxtail Braised with Tomato and Celery Coda alla Vaccinara (Adapted from Amanda Hesser in the New York Times) Ingredients
¼ pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large carrot, peeled, finely diced
1 medium onion, peeled, finely diced
7 inner stalks celery, 1 finely diced, 6 sliced into thirds (about 3-inches long) pieces ¼ cup raisins
Extra-virgin olive oil
3 pounds oxtail (trimmed weight), severed at each joint into pieces about 3 inches long
Sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups white wine
3 sprigs fresh oregano
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 (28-ounce) can peeled Italian tomatoes, partially drained
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a deep, heavy casserole or pot that can fit all the oxtails in one layer, combine pancetta, carrot, onion and diced celery and enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan (about 3 tablespoons). (Note that the size of your pan will play a part in determining the amount of olive oil; I had to use 4 tablespoons.)
2. Place pan over medium heat and cook until pancetta renders its fat, about 15 minutes.
Season oxtails on all sides with salt and pepper, add to the casserole, and brown well on all sides, turning them only after they’ve browned. Using tongs, remove oxtails from pan and place in a bowl. Set aside.
3. Add the tomato paste to the vegetables in the casserole and cook, stirring, until paste caramelizes, about 2 minutes. Stir in wine and mix, being sure to scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Heat to boiling and cook 3 minutes. Add oregano, cloves and cinnamon and then tomatoes, squishing them between your fingers as they fall into the pan.
4. Return oxtails to pan. Liquid must be as high as one-third of the ingredients. If not, add a little water. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover pan and place in oven. Braise for 1 1/2 hours, turning the oxtails now and then.
5. Add the remaining celery and the raisins, then continue cooking until the meat is tender and falling off the bone, about 30 to 60 minutes longer. (I opted for 60 minutes.)
6. Remove the pan from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a large platter or in shallow bowls, making sure everyone gets a bit of the pulpy sauce and celery.