Monday, November 11, 2013

Red, Red Wine (with apologies to Bob Marley and UB40)
What’s cooking? Brasato al Barolo on Creamy Polenta

If you want to have even more fun and sing along as you read this post, click here.

As much as I love to cook, I’m not all that fond of red wine. And in the grand irony that shows up in many marriages, red wine is what my husband loves most to drink. So he’s always happy when he hears me say that I’ve bought a nice piece of beef to cook for dinner.

“So, my love, how will we be cooking that steak?” he asks.

“Well, I found this very interesting marinade,” I say. “It’s got soy sauce, and sesame oil, and...”

Then I stop because I notice his facial muscles have achieved a pained look, and he’s holding his head in his hands, making those motions that suggest he’s about to start pulling his hair out. He wants it simply done, so he can pull out one of his big Italian reds. That’s just not the way I think.

But this spring, we joined a small group that wants to do gourmet dinners in which everyone prepares a course. Our turn to do the main course was in October, so I promised to plan around the wine, instead of the other way.

In a fall-ish mood, I found a recipe on epicurious for what’s essentially a pot roast stewed in wine. Anytime I find a dish that’s been reviewed by more than 140 cooks and still gets a 4-fork rating, I pay attention. And this one, deceptively titled “Beef Braised in Red Wine,” has an alternate name that cinched it for me: Brasato al Barolo. I liked the name and the concept so well, I practiced saying it around the house for days. I discovered that if you use both of your hands in a sort of orchestra conductor’s motion, and get a lot of enthusiasm into the heavy syllables, the name sounds even better. Bra-SA-to al ba-RO-lo. Bra-SA-to al ba-RO-lo. Bra-SA-to al ba-RO-lo. I was starting to feel Italian before I even got to the grocery store.

Maybe the best thing about this recipe is that you are strongly recommended to make it a couple of days before you want to eat it, then re-heat it and boil the sauce down a bit before serving. Apparently, something magic happens while the meat sits in the sauce in the fridge. I wasn’t willing to chance it by serving on Day 1, and it certainly made life as a hostess easier to have the majority of the work already done when the guests arrive. I’ll admit that I’m usually NOT done when the guests arrive, so this would also be a novel experience for me.

Whatever the reason, it is a truly inspired dish. The meat is fork-tender without being soft, the veggies practically melt in your mouth, and the sauce – which has lots of body without being thick, and strong notes of the wine, the garlic, the herbs – will just about make you swoon.  I did a test run on a couple of friends who were most vocal in their gratitude for the opportunity, and the gourmet group raved as well.

A Kitchen Goddess note about the wine: Barolo and Barbaresco are the two great red wines from the Piemonte (Piedmont) region of Italy; of the two, Barolo is known as the one with the bigger, richer taste, with notes of rose, tar, licorice, and truffle. It’s aromatic, and ages well, and not surprisingly can be expensive. So you probably don’t want to cook with it.

In the reviews of this recipe, various of the cooks mentioned that they had used a less expensive wine. One even used Two-Buck Chuck and – surprise, surprise – was one of the few reviewers to not like the dish. To her, the Kitchen Goddess says, “Well, duh.” Barolo is made from the Nebbiolo grape, and you can find any number of reasonably priced Nebbiolo wines that are not Barolos but will work well in this recipe. I used a one from an area called Langhe, which is also in Piemonte, and I spent less than $20.

To drink with the dish, my husband unearthed a 1990 Prunotto Bussia Barolo from that collection of wines he’s been waiting to share, and it was well worth the wait.

Serve the Brasato over Creamy Polenta (recipe below), and all else you need is a green salad.

My apologies for the graininess of this photo, but it was night and the guests were hungry.

Brasato al Barolo

Adapted from Gourmet magazine, January 2007

Serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
3-3½ pound boneless beef chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ pound thick-sliced bacon, diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2-3 carrots, cut into ¾-inch dice
2 celery ribs, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme (4-6 inches each)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary (6-8 inches each)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups Barolo or other Nebbiolo wine (See note above)
3 cups beef broth

Position your oven racks to accommodate a 4-5-quart heavy ovenproof pot with lid in the center of your oven. Preheat oven to 325º.

Pat the meat dry and season all over with salt and pepper. In the pot, heat the oil on medium-high until it shimmers, then brown the meat on all sides for a total of about 10 minutes. (If the pot begins to scorch, reduce the heat to medium.) Remove the meat to a plate.

On medium-high heat, sauté the bacon, stirring often, until browned. Add the onion, carrots, and celery, and continue sautéing 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables reach a golden brown. Add the garlic, thyme, and rosemary, and sauté, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes, until the garlic begins to brown. Add the tomato paste and stir another 1 minute, then add the wine and boil 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about half. Add the broth and bring the mixture to a simmer, then add the meat – along with any juices from the plate – back into the pot.

Cover the pot and transfer it to the oven for 2½ -3 hours.

Uncover the pot and allow the contents to come to room temperature. Refrigerate, covered, 2-3 days. At any point in that time, once the fat has congealed, you may remove it and discard it, then return the pot to the refrigerator.

On the day you wish to serve, if you have not removed the congealed fat from the surface, do that first. Reheat the meat, covered, at 350º for 25-30 minutes, or until hot. Then transfer the meat to a plate and discard the herb stems. You may also want to locate any large pockets of fat in the meat and discard them as well.

Bring the sauce to a boil, and allow it to reduce for about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Original instructions on this recipe then call for slicing the meat across the grain and returning it to the sauce, but in the two times I made it, the meat was so tender, it required only forking apart to serve.

Serve over creamy polenta.

Creamy Polenta

Serves 6

2 cups milk
2 cups good quality chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking) or yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine the milk, broth, and salt in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the polenta in a fine stream, whisking to keep clumps from forming. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook at a bare simmer for 10 minutes. Stir the polenta with a spoon for 1 minute, then cover the pan again and cook another 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice more, to reach a total of 40-45 minutes of cooking. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until smooth. Serve immmediately.

Kitchen Goddess note: Polenta begins to congeal within 10 minutes as it starts to cool. If you don’t plan to serve it immediately, pour over a thin film of milk to cover the top of the polenta, put a lid on the pan, and turn your heat to the lowest possible setting (or let the pan sit on the warm stovetop) until you are ready to eat. Then just before serving, turn up the heat slightly and whisk the milk well into the polenta until smooth.

P.S. I want to thank my friend, Eileen Harrell, for the clever illustration.

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