Italian Beef Stew with Slow-Cooked Taste

It was one of those days when I had the best of intentions.  I was going to hit the gym, the grocery store,  meet a few friends for lunch, load up my crock pot, and then go about the rest of my day.  Well, somehow a dozen other errands cropped up and I didn’t get home until 4pm.  There was clearly no time to slow-cook.  I love the idea of using a crock pot, but let’s face it, it requires a fair amount of front-end organization.

With a counter-full of stew ingredients, I had to think fast.  I had to pick up my kids from school at 4:30 so time was short. I couldn’t do the entire thing stove-top because I had to go out and couldn’t leave my gas burner unattended.  I decided my next best option was to do it in the oven.   I rapid-chopped all my veggies, sautéed them in a big enamelled cast iron Dutch oven, and tossed in the cubed stew beef.  I added some tomato, red wine (it was opened and a day beyond it’s drinking prime, but perfectly good for cooking) and some fresh thyme and threw the entire covered pot into a 350 degree oven. 

When I returned about an hour later, it was just about perfect.  The tomato and wine had reduced down to a thickened, rich sauce, the meat was tender, the veggies perfect.  I let it continue to cook while I made some parmesan polenta on which to serve the stew (since there were no potatoes in it, the polenta served as a starch).  About 10 minutes later, everything was complete and ready to serve. 

And there’s one more bonus— usually to get the best flavor in a crock pot you need to brown everything in a pan before loading it into the slow cooker.  Now you have a pan AND the crock pot to clean.  When you do it the way I described, only one pot is used (be sure you choose one that is oven-proof—both the pot itself AND the cover).  So, maybe there are benefits to being disorganized after all! 

Italian Beef Stew with Parmesan Polenta

Serves 4

1 medium onion, chopped

3 carrots, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

3 stalks celery, chopped into 3/4″ pieces

2 cloves garlic

1.5 lbs beef stew meat, cut into 1″ cubes

1 cup tomato sauce (from a can or jar)

1.5 cups dry red wine

5-6 sprigs fresh thyme

olive oil, salt, pepper

1 cup quick-cooking polenta

1/2 cup (or more to taste) grated parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon butter or olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a 5 quart Dutch oven heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

Saute onions, carrots and celery until softened a bit.  Add garlic and saute an additional minute.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add stew meat and brown on all sides. 

Add tomato sauce, wine, and thyme and bring to a boil.

Cover and transfer to the preheated oven.  Allow to cook, undisturbed for one hour.  Check to see if meat is tender, and return to oven if necessary for 10-15 additional minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 cup polenta and whisk vigorously until thickened (about 5 minutes).  Add parmesan and butter off the heat and stir to combine. 

Place a serving of polenta in each dish and top with a helping of stew.

Click here for more information about Tracy’s Connecticut cooking classes, or to read her The Secret Ingredient Blog.

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