Slow cooked tomatoes with beef
( SERVES 4 )
The Italians had a great idea when they hit upon the idea of cooking joints of meat and pasta in the same pot.
Mary Contini is the owner of a famous Italian delicatessen in Edinburgh. In her family memoir Dear Francesca (Bantam, 2002), Contini says that she learnt how to make this style of dish from her grandmother and mother and, after she was married, from her mother-in-law, too. She recommends using a piece of cross-cut beef blade steak. Her interpretation of the recipe involved dicing the raw meat, whether it was beef, lamb or pork, and then browning it in olive oil with chopped onions, before adding a glass of wine, a dash of sugar and homegrown tomatoes. The diced meat was served in the sauce with pasta and topped with grated parmesan.
To enrich the flavour of the sauce, Contini adds a dried Italian sausage to the pot, but Giuliano Bugialli, in his authoritative book of traditional pasta recipes, Bugialli on Pasta, coats the piece of meat before it is browned in chopped pancetta, parsley and black pepper. You can use ripe fresh tomatoes, preferably the oval Roma or low-acid types, which are fleshy and sweet. Although peeling isn't essential because this variety has a rather thin skin, it is an easy matter to plunge them into boiling water, drain and then slip off the skins. More important than peeling is using a small, sharp knife to cut out the stem end and the tough woody strands attached to it.
|500 g||Blade steaks, cross cut|
|2||Garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced|
|2 Tbsp||Fresh parsley, finely chopped|
|1 to taste||Salt & freshly ground pepper|
|¼ cup||Olive oil|
|2||Large onions, very finely diced|
|1 tsp||Chilli flakes|
|1½ kgs||Tomatoes, sliced ripe tomatoes, or canned Italian tomatoes|
- Dry the meat and pierce it in several places with a sharp knife. Push a sliver of garlic and a little chopped parsley into each cut. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or cast-iron casserole and brown the meat thoroughly on all sides. Lift the meat out of the pot and set it aside on a plate.
- Lower the heat and add the finely diced onions and chilli. Fry gently until the onions are translucent and tender. Return the meat to the pot, add the sugar and pour on the wine.
- Allow the wine to bubble up before adding the tomatoes (ripe tomatoes, sliced or canned Italian tomatoes). Cover the pot, resting the lid over a wooden spoon to allow some evaporation. Simmer very slowly for two and a half hours, until the meat is very tender.
- Alternatively, if you are using a lidded cast-iron casserole dish, you can cook the dish in the oven set to 150C. Once the meat is tender, lift it out of the pot onto a plate. If the sauce is too thin, continue to boil it without a lid, until it is thick enough to coat pasta. Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Just as delicious as the versions using beef, lamb and pork work in the same dish - meats that contribute a subtle sweetness to the sauce. When I made it this way, I bought a 500g piece of pork scotch fillet and a 500g piece of lamb leg on the bone and followed the rest of the above recipe exactly. For two people this made three meals; the hot lamb moistened with a little of the sauce on the first night, the cold pork, sliced thinly, served with salad on the second night, and for lunch on the third day, the sauce tossed with pasta and topped with Italian parmesan.