Sicilian Braised Beef

Victor just made the mistake of calling me into the living room to see something Maryanne Esposito was making on Ciao Italia – an eggplant dish with candele pasta. Candele pasta is a really long tubular pasta that got its name from the long candle tapers used in religious processions. You know how those Italians are…

I went to her site for the recipe and the only place you can get this pasta is from Eataly. I grabbed a couple of packages and the shipping was rather steep. So… I opted for the free shipping – by spending more than $79.0 – exactly $80, to be precise.

Granted, a site like Eataly is expensive and it doesn’t take too much effort to rack up an $80 total, but I’ve spent more than that at Eataly in NYC and I did get quite a few fun things. What the hell.

Obviously, there will be more Italian cooking in our future. Kinda like tonight…

It’s actually cold outside so I thought something beef-stewish was in order. I headed over to the NY Times to see what they had for beef and fennel and found an interesting recipe for a ragout of beef  that could be adapted to ingredients I had in the house. I love it when that happens. In most cases, recipes are mere guidelines, to me, anyway. I am not a person who measures exact quantities or even uses listed ingredients. It’s really more about seeing something to get the creative juices flowing. It’s how my Mom cooked.

In my restaurant days, I knew that things had to be made the same way over and over because people expected a specific dish to be prepared in a specific way. But at home?!? Chaos reigns supreme!

One of the neat things about this recipe is slow-roasting tomatoes to put on top of the dish when it’s finished. A really nice touch.

Sicilian Braised Beef

adapted from NY Times Cooking

  • 5 small tomatoes, halved
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • hefty pinch thyme
  • 12 oz beef chuck in 2-inch chunks
  • 1 finely chopped fennel bulb
  • 1 finely chopped leeks (white only)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 12 large Sicilian green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 12 oz baby potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups robust red wine
  • 1/2 cup beef stock
  • 1 tsp rosemary

Preheat oven to 300 °F.

Place tomatoes in a bowl, add a drizzle of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and and a hefty pinch of thyme. Spread the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet, skin side down. Set aside.

In an oven-proof braising pan with tight-fitting lid, brown beef in a bit of olive oil. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add fennel, leeks, shallot and garlic to casserole, stir, season with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned. Stir in the flour, cook for a moment or two, than add olives, chile flakes and wine.

Stir, scraping pan, and bring to a simmer. Add stock. Add baby potatoes.

Return meat and its juices to the casserole. Stir in rosemary and another pinch of thyme.

Cover and place in the oven. Place the pan of tomatoes in the oven. Cook both for 2 hours.

To serve: Transfer meat, potatoes, and sauce to a serving dish, arrange tomatoes on top and enjoy!

I used a pitted kalamon olive and left them whole. Use what you have and what you like.

It worked on every level. The beef perfectly tender. The sauce rich without being overpowering – and the heat was barely noticeable.

The tomatoes were really sweet and balanced the stew perfectly. It really was a good touch – and one I shall remember when really good tomatoes are back in season!