On New Year’s Eve I served my guests beef stew with Zinfandel. It’s a homely dish, but always spectacular, and it seemed just right for a low-key gathering to usher in the new year. Our friends provided a bottle of Amarone, a 2001 Guerrieri Rizzardi “Villa Rizzardi.” Its dark muscularity was a perfect match for the beef.
I’ve made this stew at least a dozen times, adapting a recipe from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly. I don’t make it exactly like they do, but it’s close, so they deserve credit. Here’s how I do it.
Beef Stew with Zinfandel
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs dried rosemary
1 Tbs dried thyme
1 Tbs Hungarian paprika
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
4-1/2 pounds beef chuck roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks
1/4 to 1/2 cup flour
2-4 Tbs olive oil
6 oz Italian pancetta, cut into small dice
3 large onions, chopped
2 large or 3 small stalks celery, diced
1 lb crimini mushroom, caps only, quartered
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 bottle Zinfandel (Kenwood, Cline, and Ravenswood all make inexpensive, full-bodied Zins that work well in this dish)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes and their juice
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves
Make the herb rub and marinate the beef: Using a mortar and pestle, grind the dried rosemary and thyme with the salt. Place this in a large bowl and toss with the paprika, pepper, and cayenne. Add the beef and toss to coat thoroughly. Cover and let rest in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the beef from the fridge and toss with the flour. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs oil on medium-high. Brown 1/3 of the beef, turning to cook all sides. Set the browned beef aside in a large Dutch oven and continue browning the beef in batches, adding oil as necessary. Don’t crowd the pan or the beef will steam instead of browning.
Once all the beef is browned, add the pancetta to the skillet and cook on medium until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and place on the beef in the Dutch oven.
Pour off all but 1 Tbs of fat from the skillet and return it to medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until they begin to brown. Add the celery and garlic and cook until slightly browned and fragrant. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned and slightly softened. Add this vegetable mixture to the beef and pancetta in the Dutch oven.
Return the pan to the heat and pour in the Zinfandel, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom. Bring the Zin to a boil and cook a few minutes, then add the tomatoes and beef stock and return this to a boil.
Pour the wine mixture over the beef and vegetables. Add the bay leaves and additional stock to cover the meat if necessary. Set the Dutch oven on the heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover and place in the oven.
Bake 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until the beef is tender. Check it periodically, adding stock as necessary to keep it moist.
Test to adjust salt and pepper. Serve with foccaccia, mashed potatoes, or roasted root vegetables, a green salad, and a good bottle of wine.