Saturday, June 16, 2012

Carbonata

This dish comes from a 1990 BBC book, Italian Regional Cookery by Valentina Harris, and must be related to the Flemish and French carbonnade, which is often made with beer. Harris says that the Italian version is “absolutely typical” of the Aosta Valley in the north west. She specifies a “very heavy, strong red wine”; I used a nero d’avola, from Sicily.

The technique Harris gives appears to resemble that for a risotto: you add the liquid - wine, in this case - in stages. I write “appears” because she does not tell you whether to cover the casserole, instead saying that you simmer the stew until the wine “has been absorbed”, before adding more. But absorption is not what happens: meat as it cooks expels liquid rather than absorbing it. Rather, the wine evaporates. So my conclusion is that you need to cook the stew in an uncovered dish.

The problem is that, because the meat has not been entirely submerged in liquid for the two hours’ cooking time, it may still be tough. At this point, I moistened the stew with a little stock, and put it in the oven, covered, for a further hour.

The flour creates another problem, thickening the liquid and causing it to stick as it simmers. You need to stir the stew regularly.

I tend not to put flour in stews. The next time I cook carbonata, I shall leave it out, but include another onion or two. I’ll let the winey sauce evaporate until it thickens with the onions, before putting the stew into the oven for the last hour.

In the following recipe, the technique for searing the meat and the oven cooking both differ from Harris’s version. The star anise is my idea, too.

800g chuck steak, cubed
3tbsp flour
1tbsp sunflower oil
Butter
1 large onion, sliced
1 bottle red wine
½ star anise
Salt
Stock or water


In a bowl, toss the steak with the flour. Then toss it with the oil, adding a little more if you need it to coat all the chunks of meat.

Get a ridged grill pan very hot. Brown the meat on it in batches, turning once. Return the meat to the bowl when done.

In a heavy casserole and over a low heat, soften the onion in just enough butter to prevent pieces of onion from sticking and catching. Adding a little oil may help.

Tip the meat, with any juices, into the casserole, add salt and star anise, and pour in enough wine just to cover the ingredients. Bring to a simmer, and cook in the uncovered casserole over a gentle heat, stirring regularly. As the liquid diminishes, add more wine.

Continue for two hours, allowing the liquid to reduce down at the end. Add just enough stock or water to create as much sauce as you’d like, and put the casserole into a gas mark S/130C oven for a further hour.

Harris says that you might serve this dish with polenta or with jacket potatoes. I chose rice.

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