Sicilians cook a bit differently than mainland Italians do. Their cuisine is primarily a combination of Roman, Greek, Arab and Spanish settlement, with a smidge of French and German thrown in for fun. At some point, they all held sway over Sicily. We’re going to focus primarily on the Moors, who ruled Sicily for over 240 years; their influence on the language and cuisine, was and is profound. One of their major influences remains today, the cultivation and use of oranges and lemons. The Moors also brought the cultivation of eggplants, dates, rice and sugar cane. While the Romans brought wheat to Sicily, it was the Moors who promoted the production through superior irrigation. This lead to the creation of portable dried pasta. The Moors brought cinnamon, pistachios, almonds and desserts with honey. This Stufato or stew, owes its flavors primarily to the Moors and with a smidge of the other conquering people tossed into the pot!Enough of the culinary history lesson; on to the dinner at hand. The Goddess wanted to use beef in this version of the stufato, but using lamb, goat or chicken would certainly make it more authentically Sicilian. This is particularly good with lamb.
I used raisins this time around, but dates are wonderful with this. I served this with Creamy, Cheesy Polenta.
Sicilian Beef Stufato
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 pounds trimmed beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 bag frozen pearl onions
- 1 cup diced fresh fennel bulb
- 1 large bell pepper, coarsely chopped (or 1 cup frozen bell pepper strips)
- 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic
- 1 large lemon, zest removed and cut into very finely julienne
- 1 teaspoon ground porcini mushroom powder (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes with their juice
- 2 bay leaves
- 2-3 cups beef stock (you may need more later)
- 1 cup hearty red wine
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices at a sharp slant
- 1/2 cup sliced dates or raisins
- 1 teaspoon dried whole rosemary
- 1/2 teaspoon dried mint leaves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot mixed with 1 tablespoon water
- Black and green pitted olives
- 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
- 2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
- 3 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds (optional)
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil and brown the beef chunks (you may need to do this in batches); set aside. Lower the heat slightly and add the onions and fennel bulb, cook for about 4-5 minutes. Return the meat to the pot and add the bell pepper, minced garlic, peppers, lemon zest, spices and tomatoes (with their juice); stir to combine. Stir in the bay leaves, broth and wine. Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is almost tender; give it a stir now and then.
Stir in the carrots, dates (or raisins) and herbs; cover and cook until the carrots are just barely tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the arrowroot slurry and simmer just until the mixture thickens, 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in the olives, capers, vinegar and almonds, if using. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Let stand for 8-10 minutes. Serve over rice, pasta, potatoes or polenta and a leafy salad.
NOTE: This is excellent made the day before and reheated. You may substitute orange zest for lemon or use a combination of the two. I usually add the balsamic at the end, as I think it benefits from the sweet and the acid. Adjust the herbs if desired. The porcini powder does not add a decidedly mushroomy taste, but just enhances the umami aspect of the stufado.
Sicilian Beef Stufato Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
just stir the stew until the mixture just comes together.
You’ll cook it (this is actually “braising”), covered, over very low heat. You can also cook this in a 325°F degree oven, if you need to warm up the kitchen, but that’s up to you. After about 1 hour, add the carrots.
I used a lovely assortment of carrots that I purchased at Trader Joe’s, but regular carrots are fine. I never use the “baby carrots” sold in bags if I can avoid them. They are expensive, they don’t keep as well, and they don’t have as much flavor as regular carrots do. Aren’t these gorgeous? After the carrots are added, you’re pretty much done.
I love this with dates, but I used raisins because I had them. I think I prefer to use orange zest when I use dates, but either lemon or orange zest works well.
The gravy has a wonderful flavor. It’s rich and exotic, with hints of the herbs and spices, which give it a wonderful warmth. I would usually add the spices near the end with the herbs, but in this case I want them to be very subtle.
You can absolutely do this in a slow cooker and it will work beautifully. Cook it on LOW for about 5-7 hours, then add the carrots, dried fruit and herbs. Cook for 45-60 minutes longer. Stir in the arrowroot slurry, and the remaining ingredients. Cook 15 minutes. Store overnight in the fridge or serve immediately.
I do try to make this ahead, as the flavors are some much more interesting and complex when they have time to co-habitate and mingle…it’s a regular orgy of flavors in that pot and it’s oh, oh, oh, so very good….