The brasato is another legacy of cucina povera. The name derives from brace, or the hot coals over which it was traditionally cooked. Usually it is made with the lesser cuts of meat, which lend themselves to slow cooking. For farmers with small holdings, the better cuts of meat would have been sold or used to make salami and other cured meats (many of which were also sold). Whatever remained would be thrown into a pot and would stew slowly whilst everyone got on with the daily chores. In some cases the meat is marinated beforehand, with aromatic herbs and spices, then browned in fat or oil, and, as in the classic brasato al Barolo, allowed to absorb the better part of a good bottle of wine. There are more versions of brasato than one could possibly imagine, and what goes into a brasato depends very much on the region, the province, the season or whatever comes to hand.
Beef stew with Barolo
Brasato al Barolo
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 2 ½ - 3 hours
1.5kg joint of braising beef in one piece
2 celery stalks
1 clove of garlic
1 bottle of Barolo wine
Salt & pepper
Sprig of rosemary, 1 bay leaf, a few sage leaves
Begin by finely dicing the onion, celery and carrot. Place these in a large casserole pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil and the clove of garlic. Gently fry until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes). Remove the vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon, turn up the heat and add the joint of beef. Brown the joint all over to seal in the juices then add the herbs and season well. Place the vegetables back into the pot, pour in the bottle of wine and bring to the boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to a gentle simmer, place on the lid so that just a little bit of steam can escape (which allows the sauce to reduce slightly as it cooks) and leave to cook for 2 ½ - 3 hours.
Once cooked, remove the meat from the sauce and slice. Serve with the gravy from the pot and a heaped ladle of polenta. If you prefer a smoother, less rustic sauce, you can whiz the vegetables together with the gravy with a hand held blender after you’ve removed the meat.