Sunday, 15 March 2015

for Mother's Day... My Italian Mother In Law's Beef Stew RIP Mafalda

My Italian mother in law was a wonderful cook. Apart from when she tried highly experimental magazine recipes on us, with sometimes disastrous results (I will never forget (nor anyone else..) the crab stuffed pancakes whose filling resembled something the cat had brought up. (She used tinned brown crab. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.) Not a wild success for a Sunday dinner for the entire assembled family).

 But if she made Italian dishes, she was on safe ground. This stew was a particular favourite of hers. She would serve this with polenta for preference (the white one only really eaten in her North Eastern top corner of Italy) but as my husband has a true loathing of "that muck" we had it with seme di melone pasta - Melon Seeds, very similar to orzo but rounder larger and flatter.

I also slow roasted some pepper strips at the same time as the stew, on a low shelf. You could add them into the stew, but I think they tend to disappear, and I prefer them cooked separately

The thing that makes Mafalda's stews and ragus different to English stews is the way she used wine and milk before adding stock and tomato. It is added after the wine has reduced, and mixed with that acidity, curdles slightly but still tenderises the meat and softens and smooths out the flavour of the sauce.

 Italian Beef Stew

Olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan
Chopped celery, onion and carrot
Chopped streaky bacon or pancetta cubes
Shin of Beef cut into 2 in cubes

Cup of white wine or dry cider
slug of madeira or marsala
Cup of full cream milk - you can use semi or skimmed milk if that is all you have, but it is MUCH better with full cream.

beef stock
can of chopped tomatoes
dried thyme

chopped Italian parsley
chopped raw garlic
finely grated lemon zest

Quantities: the quantities are entirely up to you, depending on how many you are cooking for. I cook this by eye and hunger,not by scales. It is good natured, and to be honest, whatever you do to it will not ruin it.

The basis for this stew is as ever the Italian trinity of chopped onion, celery and carrot - not too small as it is going to cook for some time. Sweat these gently in enough oil to lightly cover the base of an flame and ovenproof casserole, (or in a saucepan and then transfer to an ovenproof casserole for the long cook) along with a good handful of chopped bacon.

When the bacon is starting to sizzle remove to a plate leaving the bacon fat and oil in the pan. Toss the cubed beef in a little seasoned flour and fry in the residual oil. Don't crowd the pan, you want the cubes to be nicely chestnut brown in colour and they won't brown if you add to many at once, so brown them in batches if necessary.

 Add the vegetables back to the pan, along with all the batches of meat and any juices left on the plates. Add in the wine and madeira/marsala, raise the heat and allow to reduce to about half. Add the milk, and again, reduce to about half - don't worry if the milk goes curdled and lumpy it will smooth out in the main cook.

 Add the beef stock (enough to cover the meat by about an inch), tomatoes and dried thyme. Adjust the seasoning, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to a low oven (Gas mk 3) and cook for 2 and a half hours. Remove the lid for a further half an hour whilst you cook some green veg and the pasta.

Serve sprinkled with gremolata - simply mix together the parsley, garlic and lemon zest. This is a wonderful addition to any rich stew.

 I hope you enjoy this, and think of your own Mother and Mother-in-Law whilst you tuck in :)

R.I.P. Mafalda.  

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