One of my all time favorite dishes to make back when we lived in North Dakota was beef stew. It’s hearty, warm, and comforting, perfect for those below zero kind of days.Though we don’t tend to hit below zero temperatures in Colorado all that often there are certainly cool enough days to warrant a nice big pot of beef stew. For a long time I only had one simple and basic beef stew recipe. Essentially beef, potatoes, carrots, green beans, corn, and peas in a rich brown gravy. Delicious but, I’ve never really diverted from that recipe. Recently, I was flipping through one of my new favorite cookbooks, The Common Sense Kitchen, which happens to have not just one, but 8 different beef stew recipes/variations! After seeing this my brain exploded with possibilities! It never occurred to me beef stew could be made so so many ways, to such good effect. Needless to say I had to start playing around with a new beef stew recipe and today I bring you one of my favorite variations, Italian Beef Stew.
Ironically, this recipe has nothing to do with The Common Sense Cookbook, other then the fact that it inspired me to approach beef stew a little differently. Today’s recipe is actually adapted from a recipe for Italian Pot Roast from one of my oldie but goodie cookbooks: The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World. When I purchased this cookbook 8 or so years ago I was immediately drawn to this pot roast. A rich tomato-y broth, strong flavors of clove, allspice, and hints of cinnamon, just work for me. I figured this wonderful combination of flavors would also shine in beef stew form, especially if I bumped the amount of spices up a bit! I also loved the books idea of serving the pot roast over polenta, which I thought could work very well for the stew as well. I decided to make a sharp cheddar polenta to really add some contrast to the flavors of the stew.
I personally omitted potatoes from the stew recipe since I served it over polenta. However, if you want to skip the polenta entirely I’d definitely toss some gold or red potatoes into the stew. I’ve gotta say the polenta works really nice with this though, so if your reluctance is that you don’t feel up for making homemade polenta, feel free to toss some cheddar and a splash of milk or both into some store bought polenta. This actually comes out surprisingly good regardless of the polenta being homemade or store-bought.
Italian Beef Stew
* Adapted from The Gourmet Slow Cooker: Simple and Sophisticated Meals from Around the World
- 2 lb stew beef
- splash of olive oil
- 1 medium onion (white or yellow)
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoons ground cloves
- 2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- sea salt
- black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup red wine (merlot is a good choice)
- 1 can diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 cups cut green beans
- 2 cups baby carrots
1. Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and the beef to the pan. Sprinkle the cinnamon, ground gloves, allspice, garlic powder, sea salt, and black pepper evenly over the meat. Sear the meat stirring regularly so that all sides of the meat brown.
2. When the meat is fully browned on all sides add the red wine to the pan to deglaze. Use a spoon to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the tomatoes and juice, chicken broth, and vegetables to the pan. Allow the liquid in the pan to come to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for at least an additional two hours but up to 4 hours.
*Alternative directions to finish the stew in the crock pot: Follow steps one and two, then pour the contents of the sauté pan into the crock pot. Add the tomatoes and juice, chicken broth, and vegetables to the crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- 7 cups of water or chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt
- 1 and 2/3 cup cornmeal, medium or coarse grind
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1. In a large stock pot bring the water or broth to a boil using a high heat. Add the salt and stir well to distribute.
2. Reduce the heat to a medium high. Add the cornmeal a little bit at a time using a slow but continuous pour. Using a wire whisk stir the entire time you are adding the cornmeal.
3. After all the cornmeal is in the pot continue to stir well for about two minutes, to ensure the cornmeal does not clump. Bring the heat down so that the water continues to simmer well but is not boiling. Cover the pot and allow the pot to simmer on it’s own.
4. In ten minutes return to the pot, and stir for a full minute. Again stir well to prevent clumping. Recover and allow the pot to simmer again.
5. Repeat step four three more times, a total of forty minutes will have passed after completing this process three times. There will be less water in the pot each time you uncover to stir, the cornmeal will absorb the water gradually. After the forty minutes the cornmeal will have come together, and begin to appear oatmeal like in texture.
6. Leave the pot uncovered and allow the cornmeal to cook for an additional five minutes. At the end of the five minutes, just prior to removing the pot from the heat, stir very well, loosing the polenta from the pot. The cornmeal will pull cleanly away from the pot during this step, so you will know it is done. Add the cheddar cheese to the pot and stir well. Serve as soon as the cheese is fully melted into the polenta.