Milk Street Italian Classics (Ep 308)

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Tuscan Beef and Black Pepper Stew (Peposo alla Fornacina)

Start to finish: 4 hours (30 minutes active) | Servings: 6

The simple, generously peppered beef stew known as peposo is said to have been created by 15th century kiln (fornacina) workers in Tuscany, Italy. Chianti is the best-known wine produced in that region and is the traditional choice for peposo, but any dry, medium-bodied red wine works well. Make sure to use coarsely ground black pepper, as it has more presence and better coats the beef. This recipe makes a generous amount of stew—about 2 quarts—so serve it one night with polenta, mashed potatoes or braised beans. The stew keeps well, so it can be made up to three days ahead and reheated in the microwave or in a saucepan over low.

Don’t be shy about trimming the fat from the chuck roast. Remove as much as you can, which may mean shedding about 1 pound. Pull the roast apart at the natural seams, then use a sharp knife to trim the fat and cut the pieces into 2-inch chunks.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 to 7 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, well trimmed and cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 12 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, plus 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 cups dry red wine

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 325°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. Place the beef in a large bowl, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon salt and 2 tablespoons pepper, then toss.

In a large Dutch oven over medium, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until the onion is lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the paste begins to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Nestle the beef and rosemary sprigs in the onion mixture, cover and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 hours.

Remove the pot from the oven. Stir, then return to the oven uncovered. Cook until a knife inserted into a piece of beef meets no resistance, another 1 to 11⁄2 hours.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat to a medium bowl. Set a fine mesh strainer over a fat separator or a medium bowl. Pour the meat juices into the strainer and press on the solids to push them through the strainer; discard any solids left behind.

Pour the wine into the now-empty pot and bring to a boil over medium- high, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce to medium and simmer until the wine is syrupy and reduced to 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, if you strained the meat juices into a bowl, use a spoon to skim off and discard the fat from the surface.

Pour the defatted meat juices into the pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, 5 to 7 minutes. Return the beef to the pot, add the minced rosemary and stir gently. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is heated, about 5 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons pepper, then taste and season with salt.


Pasta con Fagioli

Start to finish: 35 minutes | Servings: 6

We thought this rustic pasta and bean dish from Sicily would feel heavy, but the starches are lightened by tomatoes, rosemary and lemon. In Italy, dried borlotti beans (often called cranberry beans in the U.S.) are used. For weeknight ease, we opted for canned beans. Some producers label canned borlotti beans as “Roman beans.” If you cannot find them, use pink or kidney beans, which have a similar creaminess and mildly sweet flavor. Don’t use cannellini beans, which are too tender. The pasta is boiled only until very slightly softened, then drained and rinsed to stop the cooking. It finishes cooking when combined with the beans and vegetables.

Don’t rinse the canned beans after draining them; the starchy liquid clinging to them adds body to the sauce.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ounces campanelle or other short pasta
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more to serve
  • 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored and thinly sliced
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 3⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Two 151⁄2-ounce cans Roman beans (see note), drained but not rinsed 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 ounces Pecorino romano cheese, grated (1 cup)

INSTRUCTIONS

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve 2 cups of cooking water, then drain and rinse with cold water until cool; set aside.

Wipe out the pot and return it medium-high. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil until barely smoking. Add the tomatoes, then cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred and have burst about 5 minutes. Stir in the onion, sliced fennel and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, then cook on medium-high, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic, rosemary, fennel seeds and pepper flakes, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the beans, broth and 1⁄2 cup of the reserved cooking water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high. Cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring once or twice, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce is creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. If needed, add the remaining reserved cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time to reach the proper consistency. Off heat, stir in the lemon zest and juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the cheese and additional oil for drizzling.


Soft Polenta

Start to finish: 1 hour 45 minutes (10 minutes active) | Servings: 6

For the best flavor and texture, use coarse stoneground cornmeal; fine cornmeal produced pasty, gluey polenta, while steel- ground cornmeal has less flavor. We liked Bob’s Red Mill Organic Polenta Corn Grits (cornmeal), but found that different brands of can cook up with slightly different consistencies. The finished polenta should be pourable; if it’s too thick, thin with water as needed. This polenta is not enriched with butter or cheese, which allows the sweetness of the corn to be front and center. It’s a perfect side to most braises, such as Tuscan beef and black pepper stew. It also can be paired with a flavorful sauce, such as spicy tomato sauce with garlic and anchovies.

Don’t use white cornmeal. Its flavor is milder and than yellow cornmeal. In Italy, it is used mostly for sweet preparations. And don’t skip the whisk for stirring the polenta as it cooks; its wires are more effective than a wooden spoon for breaking up lumps.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups coarse stoneground yellow cornmeal
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. In a large Dutch oven, whisk together the cornmeal, 1 tablespoon salt and 11 cups water. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-high, stirring frequently to prevent clumping. Transfer the pot, uncovered, to the oven and bake for 1 hour.

Remove the pot from the oven. Carefully whisk until smooth and use a wooden spoon to scrape along the bottom and into corners of the pot. Return, uncovered, to the oven and cook until the cornmeal is thick and creamy and the granules are tender, another 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the cornmeal used.

Remove the pot from the oven. Vigorously whisk the polenta until smooth and use the wooden spoon to scrape the bottom, sides and corners of the pot. Let stand for 5 minutes. The polenta should thicken just enough for a spoon to leave a brief trail when dragged through; whisk in additional water if needed to adjust the consistency. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

PHOTO CREDIT: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES