The joke’s on stew
This classic, slow-cooked Tuscan beef stew involves just six ingredients, though this one comes with one extra – a great story, which, as we know, makes all food taste better
and liberality, bringing ingredients together in a simple and satisfying way. It is just the thing for these wintry days.
You come across lots of versions and interpretations of this dish, some that begin with a soffritto, others that include root vegetables, many that are rusty red with tomato. The classic version, however, is pared down and essential. Just six ingredients – beef, olive oil, wine, garlic, salt, pepper. Add to this, heat and time – at least two hours at the sort of simmer that has you peering under the pan to check the flame hasn’t gone out. Like the beans last week, there is everyday alchemy at work here, the slow cooking allowing the wine to seep into the meat, rendering it tender and really dark, the garlic simmering into sweetness and then dissolving. Then there is the pepper – lots of it – which seasons the meat and deepens the flavour of the sauce, providing throat-warming heat and spice. It isn’t as fiery as you would imagine, despite the possibly
Warm the olive oil in a heavy-based casserole or stockpot, then brown the meat in batches over a medium heat. Return all the meat to the pan, add the peeled but whole garlic cloves, the red wine and a pinch of salt. Use a pestle and mortar to pound the peppercorns until fine, then add that to the pan.
Bring the pan almost to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for 2-2½ hours or until the meat is very tender but still holding its shape. If you like, remove the lid for the last 45 minutes to reduce the sauce. If you want it reduced further, remove the meat and boil the sauce until slightly thickened, then return the meat to the pan.
Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Ideally allow to rest for a few hours – better still, overnight – then reheat gently.