“We are farmers, but we have something really beautiful.” ~Carluccia
Carluccia is a farmwoman Jessica Theroux spent time with in Calabria during the year she gathered recipes for her book, “Cooking with Italian Grandmothers.” Carluccia’s deep connection to her animals and fields and to the vegetables she raised taught Jessica to pay attention to each little thing her cooking…to look and listen carefully to her ingredients, and to the people she fed.
Our neighbor Rodney is a farmer who raises beautiful black Dexter cattle. His herd lives in our pasture and eats grass and herbs and, very occasionally, my garden. The cows are sweet and gentle and the perfect size for a mountain farm. When Rodney gave me a chuck roast from one of his steers, I wanted to honor the animal by cooking in the attentive style of the Italian Grandmothers.
There are two approaches to this ragu, depending on your schedule and/or temperament. You can mince the vegetables for the sofritto and slowly sauté them until they melt away into an “invisible layer of deliciousness”, a la Samin Nosrot, who says,” cooking is about seeking the deepest, farthest, richest flavors in everything…about extracting the the absolute most out of every ingredient…” Or, you can go the “just whack ’em up route” and create an equally delicious homey stew with hunks of flavorful vegetables.
Ingredients: 2 1/2 to 3 lbs grass-fed chuck roast or sirloin tip roast, salt and pepper, olive oil, 3 to 4 cups finely chopped or thickly sliced onions, 1 cup finely diced or thickly sliced celery, 1 1/2 cups finely diced or thickly sliced carrots, 6 to 8 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1 minced fresh or dried hot chile pepper, 2 bay leaves, 6 sprigs fresh thyme, 10 crushed juniper berries, 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds, 2 cups canned tomatoes with juice (or 2 Tbs tomato paste and 3/4 cup water), 2 1/2 cups hearty red wine, 2 to 3 cups homemade or canned beef or chicken broth, 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Cut the meat into 1 1/2 to 2-inch stew-sized pieces. Season it with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat 2 Tbs oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and brown the meet on all sides, working in batches if you need to. Add more oil if needed and sear each batch about 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and sauté the onion with a pinch of salt until soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Raise the heat a bit and stir in the carrots and celery. Add oil if needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 to 7 minutes longer. Stir in the garlic and red chile and cook 1 minute. Add the bay leaves, thyme, juniper berries, fennel seed, and wine. Bring to a simmer and cook 3 to 4 minute. Add the meat and juices back into the pot. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands. Add broth and bring to a slow boil.
Stovetop Method: Reduce the heat to low and leave the lid slightly ajar. Maintain a gentle simmer, stir occasionally, and add liquid as needed. The liquid should reduce to a thick sauce by the time the meat is fork-tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Oven Method: Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook the ragu until the meat is very tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. If the ragu is more liquid that you want when the meat is done, strain the liquid through a colander into a saucepan. Skim off any fat and boil to reduce and concentrate the flavors. Return the broth to the ragu.
Taste the ragu and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with polenta, pasta, couscous, or bread.