Brasato al Barolo con Polenta (Braised Beef in Barolo Wine with Polenta)

13 Nov

The name brasato derives from brace (BRA-chay), the hot coals over which the meat was traditionally cooked.  Braised beef marinated in a fine Barolo wine is one of the most representative and classic dishes of the Piedmont region, a savory delight for a cozy dinner on cold nights.  The Barolo’s intense flavor gives an extra aroma and unique taste to the meat.  Barolo is a rich, deeply concentrated full-bodied wine, with pronounced tannins and acidity (and therefore ideal for marinating).  The tannins contained in the wine bind to the food proteins and, when used as a marinade, come across as softer.  In addition to the wine flavor, the aroma of herbs such as bay leaf and rosemary gives a special touch to this dish.  Rosemary and bay leaf are also known for their invigorating properties.  For example, rosemary, the delicious herb associated with Aphrodite the goddess of love, boosts blood supply and helps increase sensitivity of the skin.  You can enjoy brasato with either mashed potatoes or, like we Italians do, with polenta – “the Italian grits”.  Polenta is made from cornmeal and ranges in color from golden yellow to the white polenta from Veneto.  In the Roman times, a polenta made of crushed-grains (pulmentum) was the staple of Roman Legions.  Maize, however, was not cultivated in Europe before Cristoforo Colombo brought it back in the 16th century.  Then for hundreds of years polenta, the traditional food of the Northern Italian peasants, was known as the poor-man’s food.  Now, defying its humble origin, polenta has also been discovered by a new, sophisticated audience and is frequently found in gourmet restaurants.

BRASATO AL BAROLO CON POLENTA (BRAISED BEEF IN BAROLO WINE WITH POLENTA)

Preparation time: 12 hrs      Cooking time: 2 ½ hrs+40 min.        Serving: 4

INGREDIENTS
Brasato
900 g (2 pounds) cappello di prete, beef chuck roast
1 bottle Barolo wine
3 carrots
1 celery rib
1 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 piece of cinnamon
3 pepper corns
3 cloves
40 g (3 tablespoons) butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste

Polenta
1.6 l water (about 1-½ qts)
1 tablespoons kosher salt
400 g (2 cups) cornmeal
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)

DIRECTIONS
Brasato

You should start the day before you plan to cook the meat.

  1. Tie the meat with a cotton string so it keeps its shape
  2. Cut the carrots, the celery and the onion into big pieces, and put them in a large glass bowl with the meat and bay leaf, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.  Add the wine.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a cool place (I suggest the refrigerator) for 12 hours.  This is important to reduce the proliferation of bacteria
  3. After 12 hours remove the meat from the bowl and dry it with some paper towels
  4. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté the meat in the butter and olive oil for 5 minutes on both sides
  5. Add the vegetables, the wine and some salt to taste
  6. Cover and cook on low heat for at least 2-½ hours.  The meat should be so tender that it could be carved with a spoon
  7. Remove the meat from the pan.  Discard the rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves
  8. Blend the vegetables and liquid with an electric blender, and then reduce the sauce for 2-3 minutes
  9. Slice the meat when it is no longer too hot; it will be easier to slice.  Pour the sauce on the meat and serve either with polenta or mashed potatoes.

Polenta

  1. In a heavy sauce pan bring the water to boil.  Add the salt
  2. Reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the cornmeal to prevent lumps from forming
  3. Cover and cook for 5 minutes
  4. Remove the lid and stir constantly with a wooden spoon on high heat
  5. Continue to stir for about 40 minutes (according to package cooking time) until the polenta is thickened.  It should separate from the sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon
  6. Add 2-3 T oil olive
  7. Pour the polenta onto a wooden cutting board, let it stand for a few minutes and cut it into slices using either a knife or, according to the peasant tradition, a cotton string.

Note: Barolo wine needs to be matched with food of similar weight such as meat dishes, heavy pasta and rich risotto, and it is excellent for marinating. In fact, marinades work their magic due to the acids in the wine which break down muscle tissue and soften the meat.  An appropriate Barolo substitute is Barbera or another full-bodied red wine.  Polenta is not difficult to make but needs a lot of attention and nearly constant stirring.  The best pan to use should be a copper pot surrounded by the cooking flame (a large gas-burner is ideal).  In the past – and indeed still today – farmers cooked polenta over an open fire, and this without doubt the tastiest version you can eat!!! -Paola

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6 Responses to “Brasato al Barolo con Polenta (Braised Beef in Barolo Wine with Polenta)”

  1. Anna Nacci November 14, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Uno dei miei preferiti!

  2. Chiara November 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    che bella presentazione, complimenti !

  3. AdriBarr November 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Now this is just perfect food for cold weather. I love dishes like this – you come in the house and smell the beef and the wine, Barolo. no less. It is so homey and comforting. And the polenta seals the deal. This is the kind of meal my husband Bart rhapsodizes over. And your presentation is beautiful. Brava!

    • Passion and Cooking November 20, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      Brasato with polenta is a classic dish that my mom prepared for cold weather. I grew up with polenta and now my son loves it, too. I am glad you like the presentation because I worked a lot on it!

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