The art of braising meats was explained to me by Mammina Loreta and Papa Pierino in my early days of helping in la cucina. Italians have long used this classic method of preparing a variety of, often times, lesser cuts of meat to achieve tender and delicious results.
My favorite braised dish starts with beef short ribs. This cut of meat was often in our home as Mammina Loreta used it for many of her Sunday tomato sauces and soup stocks as well as this main dish preparation.
The combination of beef ribs (tons of flavor is derived from the meat bones and cartilage) and the flavorful tomato and wine-infused braising sauce is rich and satisfying. A food favorite from fall to winter that is found at our famiglia’s tavola (family table.)
This dish is classically served with a side of creamy polenta that soaks up the sauce beautifully. You can also choose to serve this with a light pasta noodle or just a side of rustic sauteed greens (escarole, spinach, broccoli rabe, swiss chard) if you prefer.
My favorite way to eat this dish is with torn bread for dipping in the rich sauce and rustic bitter greens for a balanced combination of flavors and textures.
costolette di manzo brasato
4-6 medium size beef short ribs (ask your butcher for the meatiest ones)
2-3 garlic cloves (peeled & chunked)
1 glass (about 1 cup or so) full-bodied red wine
2 celery stalks & leaves (cut into medium size pieces)
2 carrots (peeled & cut into medium size pieces)
1 large can San Marzano peeled whole plum tomatoes
good quality homemade or organic beef stock (unsalted)
salt and pepper to taste
Season the ribs with salt and pepper to taste on both sides and set aside. In a large bowl, add the canned tomatoes and their liquid and using a scissors or your hands, cut the tomatoes up into small pieces, discarding any bad bits, etc.; set aside.
In a deep-sided skillet, drizzle a good dose of olive oil and add the garlic cloves, sauté for a minute or two until you smell the aroma.
Keep the heat on medium or so and add the celery and carrot; sauté for about two to three minutes until caramelized and golden brown (remove the garlic & discard.) Remove from the heat and place the sautéed vegetables in a bowl; set aside. In the same skillet, add your seasoned ribs and increase the heat to medium-high to brown completely on all sides until a rich golden.
Lower the heat and add in the sautéed vegetables and the red wine; this will deglaze the pan and allow to cook for another minute or two until the alcohol burns off and the wine has reduced a small amount.
Add the canned tomatoes and their liquid along with about a cup or so of the beef stock. The liquid should reach the sides of the ribs without covering them completely.
Place on medium high heat and let this come to a slow simmer (do not let this boil too hard) and place a lid partially over the top of the skillet, allowing some of the steam to escape. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This mixture needs to simmer for a good 2-3 hours at a slow to medium pace; check it often, turning the ribs on all sides so they touch the bottom. Continue to add more beef stock and or water if the liquid reduces to quickly. After about 2 hours or so, taste the sauce by dipping bread into it, adjust the seasonings.
Once the rib meat is fork-tender; remove the ribs gently to a bowl and cover loosely.
If the sauce is still a bit watery at this point; place back on the heat to simmer slowly and reduce to thicken (be sure to check for seasoning.)
NOTE: Depending on my mood and what the local markets have in stock; I will sometimes add vegetables to this meat braise to enhance the flavors and add some variety to the finished dish.
I love to add a mixture of wild and cultivated mushrooms in the fall and winter that add a wonderful depth of flavor to the dish. You can also add some brined pitted olives, leeks, a squeeze of anchovy paste and even some grated lemon zest.
Add the mushrooms into the mixture about 30-45 minutes before it is done so they do not overcook in the braise process.
To finish this warm and hearty dish, serve along with polenta and prepared sautéed greens or a fresh salad of baby arugula, pine nuts, shaved Parmigiano, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.