Italian Beef Stew with Thyme Brown Butter Gnocchi
Bar none, one of my most favourite meals is Italian Beef Stew with Thyme Brown Butter Gnocchi. The beef has a vibrant, rich, delicious red wine sauce that compliments the fluffy pillowyness (not sure that is a word but you get my drift) of the gnocchi. This recipe is inspired by a recipe I saw made at a cooking school in Westbank, British Columbia called Wine and Thyme. My friend and I and our husbands went to a cooking lesson there and had a great time learning a few techniques with some other like minded folks.
Italian Beef Stew with Thyme Brown Butter Gnocchi is a homey, satisfying meal packed with flavour and doesn’t break the bank to make for a crowd. It can feed an army and results in a meal that seems like it took a lot of talent to make but is really pretty easy. I make it in my Staub pot like this one Staub Round Cocotte 5.5qt because you start it out on the stove top and then stick it in the oven to finish. I love my Staub because it goes from stove top to oven to table and keeps the food nice and hot through service.
Dry the Stew Meat
Start by grabbing your sealed cast iron pot (ok, you can use another pot that is safe for stove top but it will be a bit of a pain because you will have to transfer at the end to an oven-safe dish). Begin by laying out your pieces of stew meat in a single layer. If you have time, or think about it early enough, let them air dry for an hour or so. Otherwise, take paper towel and dry the beef as well as possible. Yes, it is a pain, and yes, it is worth it.
Once it is dried well, and you are ready to start searing it, generously salt and pepper the stew meat.
Searing the Stew Meat
Preheat your oven to 350F. Heat up the dutch oven on medium high heat and add the oil. I use an olive oil (not extra-virgin just regular for its lower smoke point). Once the oil is shimmery, add a single layer of the beef stew pieces. Once they land in your pot, let them be. Do not try to move them or adjust them or you will just fight with them sticking. Leave them long enough and they will naturally release from the pot and you will be able to move them and turn them.
This is the most time consuming part of the active cooking of this dish. You need to make sure that you are patient in getting the sear on all sides of the meat and that will only happen if you work in batches. Make sure you do not crowd the pot or you will end up with boiled, gray meat instead of seared, rich brown meat (see how much better one sounds than the other!) If things are really smoking hot, turn down your stove top. Medium on one stove might be medium high on another. You want it hot enough that you are getting a sear while not being so hot you are filling your kitchen with smoke.
As you complete the searing process for the batch of meat you are working with, remove it to a plate and move on to the next batch. Continue until all of the meat is seared off.
Saute Pancetta and Vegetables
Next, add the pancetta to the pot. Pancetta is an italian bacon which Wikipedia describes here. I get the deli to slice it about a quarter of an inch thick and then I chop it into little cubes. Reduce your burner to medium. This step will be to render the fat from the pancetta and get the pancetta nice and crispy.
Once the pancetta is rendered down and crispy, add chopped onions and carrots and cook, turning occasionally until they have softened a bit. The length of time you do this is not so critical as the whole thing is going to go in the oven for a couple of hours so there is really no chance your veggies are going to be underdone at the end.
Add chopped garlic and cook for a little bit. The smell at this point is amazing.
While your veggies are cooking, microwave your beef broth to get it hot so you can re-hydrate some porcini mushrooms. You can use porcini or oyster or whatever kind of mushroom you want. In fact, add a mixture! Add them to the hot beef broth to re-hydrate while you do the next few steps.
Deglaze and Add Braising Liquid
Deglaze your pan with cooking sherry and reduce for a couple of minutes.
Cooking Wine Theory
Add some good red wine. Not $50 a bottle good but not the nasty stuff either. My theory on cooking with wine is that you should use a decent bottle of wine that you would enjoy drinking. I don’t think you need to break the bank on it either though because using a special bottle of red wine won’t elevate the dish noticeably. On the other hand, using a crappy bottle of red wine will detract from the dish. Middle of the road is where you need to be. Boil the wine off for a minute or two.
Once your mushrooms have re-hydrated, remove them from the broth and chop them up. Toss them in the pot with a big can of diced tomatoes and the beef broth. Add some fresh rosemary (or dry if that is what you have in the cupboard and a couple of bay leaves.
Put the meat back in and all of its juices. Stir everything to mix it evenly and the put the lid on and braise for a couple of hours or until the consistency is how you want it. You can begin checking it around 1 1/2 hours for tenderness and sauciness and then pull it out when you like what you see. Longer cooking time will get you more tender meat but less sauce. I find that if I double this recipe, I have to cook it for about 3 hours to get it cooked down to the sauciness I like.
Once you are happy, pull the pot from the oven and remove the bay leaves and the stock of the rosemary. Taste the sauce and adjust with salt and pepper to your taste. Serve with Thyme Brown Butter Gnocchi (recipe to be linked shortly) and a side salad and receive the praise!! Well done! Let me know how you liked this version of Italian Beef Stew with Thyme Brown Butter Gnocchi.
Italian Beef Stew with Thyme Brown Butter Gnocchi
A rich, homey, tasty stew with gnocchi.
- 3 lbs beef stew meat
- 2 tbsp olive oil plus more if needed for sauteing
- 4 ounces pancetta diced into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1 yellow onion large, chopped
- 3 carrots large, chopped
- 5 cloves garlic large, minced
- 1/2 cup cooking sherry
- 2 cups red wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 28 Ounces Diced tomatoes Canned
- 3 ounces mushrooms dried, mixed variety
- 1 stalk of fresh rosemary alt 1 1/2 tbsp dried
- 3 bay leaves large
If you have time, lay beef out in a single layer on a platter to air dry. Otherwise, take paper towel and dry the beef well switching out the paper towel for dry towel when needed.
Once beef is well-dried and you are ready to begin searing, generously season with salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Using a sealed cast iron pot for best results, heat on medium-high heat on stove top.
Add oil and let heat until the oil is shimmery. Once oil is up to temperature, add a single layer of seasoned beef leaving space between the pieces of meat.
For best results, do NOT try to adjust the placement of the meat after you have placed it in the pot. It is highly likely to stick and make a mess. Leave it and then it sear in place and then it will naturally release once it has carmelized. Sear all sides of the beef and then remove to a platter.
Working in batches, complete searing all of the beef and placing the seared beef on the platter. Set aside.
Turn down the stove top if necessary and add chopped pancetta. Cook until the fat has rendered out and the pancetta is crispy.
Then, add the onions, carrots and garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
While the veggies are cooking, take the beef broth and heat it up in the microwave or on the stove top and add the dried mushrooms to the hot broth to re-hydrate them.
Deglaze the pan with the cooking sherry.
Once the sherry has cooked down a bit, add the red wine and cook for a few minutes.
Remove the mushrooms from the broth and coarsely chop them.
Add the broth, the mushrooms, the tomatoes and the rosemary and bay leaf.
Then place the beef and all its drippings back into the pot and reheat it.
Put a lid on your dutch oven and put in oven to braise.
Begin checking the tenderness of the meat at about 1 1/2 hours. It is done when the meat is nice and tender and the sauce has cooked down to the consistency that you like. Less time will result in a saucier stew while more time will result in a thicker stew and more tender meat.
We are a participant in the Amazon Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites.