Slow Cooked Tuscan Beef Stew for Wine Club

When Ray asked if I’d like to cook the entree for the Pairings wine club focused on Tuscany, I eagerly jumped on the opportunity to come up with suitable dish to serve with the big, earthy reds I anticipated we’d enjoy. I figured I’d need to do some research and experimenting to come up with something our discerning group would enjoy. This is my kind of research!

Slow Cooked Tuscan Beef Stew from Cooking Chat.

I wound up doing some “recipe hacking” to arrive at the final result. I started with this Tuscan Pork Stew from Food and Wine,  We loved the flavors of this stew, but I wasn’t wild about the way the pork came out. I thought of a beef stew recipe I enjoyed, with good tender meat, and did some experimenting with the herbs and vegetables used in the pork recipe, but in a beef stew. I was pretty pleased with the final result, and believe it was a pretty solid contribution to a wonderful night enjoying some great Tuscan wine, not to mention some great cheeses and a wonderful tartlet Lori made. My one critique–and pointer if you make this–is to make sure you’re cheese cloth is well secured, I think I had a few of the peppercorns slipped out, leading to a few bites that were more peppery than I’d like!

Revealing a Super Tuscan from its paper bag at a wine club blind tasting. Cooking Chat post.
Wine club fun–revealing what we’ve been drinking!

For the marinade
1 bottle Chianti or other dry red wine
4 rosemary sprigs
4 sage sprigs
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 of a celery rib, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, coarsely chopped
3 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon juniper berries, 2 teaspoons whole cloves, tied in cheese cloth
2.5 lbs. stew beef, cut into 2 inch cubes

Spices in cheesecloth for Cooking Chat's Tuscan Beef Stew
make sure your cheesecloth is tied tightly!

For the stew
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 of a celery rib, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon very finely chopped sage
2 1/2 teaspoons very finely chopped rosemary–1 tsp reserved for later in cooking
Salt & pinch of crushed red pepper to taste
2 whole cloves, 8 juniper berries, 2 bay leaves and 4 peppercorns, tied in cheesecloth
3 cups reserved marinade
1/2 cup beef or chicken broth
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup or so of olives, sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1 tbsp of lemon zest
a few grinds of black pepper
1.5 tsp garlic powder or spice blend–I like Organic Healthy Earth Seasonings spice blend for meat, seafood and veggies from Whole Foods

Make the marinade: Combine all the marinade ingredients, through the spices in the cheesecloth, in a large bowl. Place the beef in a large sealable plastic bag, then pour the marinade into the bag (having a helper is handy here). Gently shake the beef around a bit to get it well-coated, then squeeze the air out of the bag and seal it tightly. Store the beef in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Marinade for Cooking Chat's Tuscan Beef Stew recipe.

Brown the meat and veggies: When you’re ready to start cooking, place a strainer inside a large bowl. Pour the beef mixture into the strainer, using the bowl to capture and reserve the marinade. Remove the beef, patting it with paper towel to dry it a bit, and scrape off big pieces of herbs and spices from the marinade. Set the beef aside in a bowl to cook.

Heat the oil on medium heat in a large cast iron skillet or dutch oven, if you’re going to cook the stew in the oven. Add the Add the finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery to the pan, cook for a few minutes until it starts to soften. Add the garlic, cook for another minute. Next, stir in the beef, combining it well with the veggies. Salt to taste. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to brown on all sides. After the beef has browned, stir in the stock along with the red pepper, rosemary and sage, cooking until the stock has mostly evaporated. Now you are ready to start the slow cooking, either in a crockpot or the oven…choose your method and see those instructions below.

Crockpot: Transfer the beef mixture into the crockpot. Add the 3 cups reserved marinade, the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and the spices in the cheesecloth. Cover and cook for 2 hours on high, 6.5 hours on low, or 10 hours on low. I’ve found starting on high then switching to low is a way to trim the cooking time a bit, but still allows most of the cooking to be done low and slow. Skip ahead to finishing the stew at the end of the crockpot cooking time.

Oven Method: Preheat the over to 300 degrees as you brown the meat and veggies. Once the beef has browned in an oven proof dutch oven, add the 3 cups reserved marinade, the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and the spices in the cheesecloth. Bring to a boil on the stove top, then lower to a steady simmer and cover. Carefully move the dutch oven to the oven, and cook for 4 hours. Lower the heat to 200 and cook for another hour (if you have time).

Fresh parsley added to Tuscan Beef Stew adds fresh flavor. Cooking Chat recipe.

Finish the stew: After cooking by either method above, you will have very tender, falling apart beef. The liquid is still a bit thin for my taste at this point. One more hour of cooking will get you the full flavor and thickness you want! Put the stew back on the stovetop (transferring from crockpot to a regular pot if that’s the method you’ve followed). Bring to a steady simmer, and add the garlic powder or spice blend, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer partially covered for one hour to reduce and thicken the stew. At the end of this cooking time, stir in the olives, parsley and lemon zest–the last two items give a nice freshness to it. Alternatively, a bit of these last 3 items can be served on top of each person’s bowl of stew, for a nice presentation. They can then stir it up and enjoy.

I like to serve this stew alongside some mashed potatoes and a Tuscan Inspired Arugula Salad. For the wine club gathering, I made some Porcini Mashed Potatoes to go with the stew. Stay tuned for that recipe!

Tuscan wine lineup for wine club dinner featuring Cooking Chat's Tuscan Beef Stew

Serve with a great Tuscan red! Well, if you’ve got $200 or so burning in your pocket you’d like to spend on a great bottle of wine, I certainly enjoyed the 2009 Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore. I was one of three in our group that picked this as our favorite of the three Super Tuscans that we blind tasted. It was interesting to see that a $50 surprise bottle in that mix, a Super Tuscan from Reininger in Washington state, was the top choice of several in the group. I enjoyed that one too, and ordered a bottle. Other wines of note that we enjoyed included a Capanna Brunello Reserva and a Felsina Chianti Classico Reserva. We finished off the evening with the classic Tuscan dessert pairing of almond biscotti served with Vin Santo Chianti Classico. In one of my practice runs, we enjoyed this stew with the 2008 Il Novecento Chianti Reserva, a very nice bottle for around $20.

Tuscan Beef Stew served with red wine from Tuscany. Cooking Chat recipe.

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