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Italian-Style Beef and Porcini Stew

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Serves 5 to 6

  • by Molly Stevens from Fine Cooking
    Issue 121

The mushroom-infused broth from soaking dried porcini is incorporated into this hearty beef stew for more of that earthy flavor. Serve with crusty Italian bread for mopping up every last bit of broth.

  • 3 lb. boneless beef shoulder roast, chuck roast, or top blade, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-1/2- to 2-inch pieces
  • 2 oz. thick-cut pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs. grapeseed oil or vegetable oil; more as needed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2-1/2 cups warm water until soft, then chopped, soaking liquid reserved and strained
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups peeled pearl onions
  • 1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped (discard juice)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Position a rack in the bottom third of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.

Spread the beef on paper towels to dry for 10 to 20 minutes before browning. (You can use this time to chop the onion, celery, and carrot). If the meat is very wet, pat it dry.

In a 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot, cook the pancetta in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned but not crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside. Do not wipe out the pan.

Heat the pancetta fat over medium to medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Season about one-third of the beef with salt and pepper and arrange it in a single layer in the pot (there should be at least 1/2 inch of space between the pieces). Brown well on at least 4 sides, adjusting the heat as necessary; each batch should take about 10 minutes to brown. Transfer the beef to a large bowl or rimmed baking sheet as it browns and repeat with the rest of the beef, seasoning with salt and pepper before browning. Once all of the beef is browned, remove the pot from the heat to let it cool for a few minutes.

Pour all but 2 Tbs. of the fat from the pot. (If there is not enough, add oil to equal 2 Tbs.) Return the pot to medium heat, then add the yellow onion, celery, and carrot. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, soaked porcini, rosemary, and bay leaf and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the pancetta to the pot.

Add the wine, stirring with the wooden spatula to dissolve any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Raise the heat to medium high and boil to reduce by about half, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Bring to a boil.

Return the beef to the pot along with any accumulated juice. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer.

Crumple a 12x16-inch piece of parchment, then flatten it out. (Crumpling makes for easy handling.) Place the parchment directly on the surface of the stew, allowing the ends to come up the sides of the pot. Cover and put in the oven.

After 1 hour of stewing, add the pearl onions to the pot. Cover with the parchment and lid, return to the oven. After another 30 minutes, add the tomatoes. Cover with the parchment and lid, return the pot to the oven, and cook until the beef is fork-tender.

Stir in the basil. Degrease the stew by laying a clean paper towel over the surface of the stew and gently pushing it into all the bumps and dips, then quickly peeling it off. Repeat as necessary with more paper towels. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Make Ahead Tips

The stew can be made up to 2 days ahead: Skip the degreasing step, cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate. Once the stew is chilled, lift the solidified fat off the top with a slotted spoon. Reheat the stew over medium-low heat to serve.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 460; Fat (g): 14; Fat Calories (kcal): 120; Saturated Fat (g): 4.5; Protein (g): 53; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 5; Carbohydrates (g): 22; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2.5; Sodium (mg): 640; Cholesterol (mg): 145; Fiber (g): 5;

Photo: Scott Phillips

This recipe was a lot of work not to mention expensive! It was however delicious. Thick, hearty, full of flavor, and a little reminiscent of Beef Bourguignon. A few recommendations for the recipe though. First degrease BEFORE you stir in the basil otherwise you just mixed all the grease back into the pot with the basil. Second, I put in 3/4 tsp pepper and 1.5 tsp salt. Third, the grease from the pancetta was not enough to even make it through the first batch; use a good high temp oil like sunflower to supplement. Fourth, unless you have a 900CFM or more exhaust fan (my next project) above your stove be prepared for the house to get smokey. If you are going to do this for company you may want to wait 2 days to let the house air out first. Fifth, the measurements for the veggies (1 medium this and that) are way off, I just went with the 1 this and that and it was fine. If I had done it by measurement I don't think it would have been as good. Sixth, the recipe says to let the meat dry out on top of the paper towels, I however took a hint from Julia Child and gave it a bit more drying by bringing it to room temperature to stop sweating then patting dry it with paper towels; it definitely helps the meat brown much more easily. Finally, it takes at least an hour to an hour and a half after the tomatoes are added for the meat to get tender so plan accordingly. Dinner ended up being very late due to my not realizing this. I served it with a caprese salad and we enjoyed it. All in all a very good meal.

I very much enjoyed this stew. I did not have a problem with grease from the beef as another reviewer complained (use well trimmed high quality meat). I used peeled cipolline onions as I like these better. I am used to having more "chunks" in my stew, so I added some purple fingerling potatoes and some cremini mushrooms, quartered in addition to the porcini called for in the recipe. A lovely rich broth.... would definitely make again.

This was not what I would call a "Quick and easy" meal but it was well worth it! I think it would be good over some home-made noodles. I'll have to try that next time. The first time I try a new recipe I follow it exactly then I decide if I want to change things to my liking. However when shopping for this one I forgot to get the pearl onions so I added some frozen peas at the end. I did go back to the store to get the onions and added them later. Next time I'll make it I'll still include the peas and add more carrots.

Not only is this the best beef stew I have ever made, it is the best I have ever eaten. Followed Hillary's much appreciated tips and clarifications, which did not deviate from the recipe. I can't imagine substituting regular mushrooms for porcini as the deep earthy flavor imparted by the porcini is such an important element of the dish. Yes, it was a lot of work, but I made it 2 days ahead (up to the point of degreasing). Served with ciabatta as suggested and braised and gratinéed fennel from Patricia Wells AT HOME IN PROVENCE.

As I was making this stew I thought how much it was like a classic braise. While it was in the oven I saw that it was created by Molly Stevens, author of one of my favorite cookbooks, All About Braising. I love this recipe. I made just a couple of changes. I very lightly floured the beef before searing. Also, because of the cost of dried mushrooms ($5-$10 per oz in my area), I bought 1 oz of mushrooms so I could make the mushroom broth and supplemented with a couple big handfuls of regular mushrooms. I added these in after the vegetables had cooked a bit. As we were eating this wonderful stew I was thinking I could give or take the pearl onions. Just then, my husband said, "I really love these little onions in here"!

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