Picchiapò

Roman Braised Beef with Tomato and Onion

You start with a piece of beef shin, but I actually ended up using a piece of brisket, because that’s what the butcher had and it was perfect, too. You simmer it with some aromatics for a couple of hours. Alternatively, because this is a dish that is meant to recycle leftover beef, you could simply use leftover brisket or leftover pieces of beef from a previous meal. Either way, the meat must be shredded, and some of the soft carrots that you cooked with the beef, roughly chopped. Then you make a simple tomato sauce, flavored only with onions, marjoram and hot pepper. Once the spicy sauce has thickened, the shredded meat and carrots are stirred into it and simmer together until it’s all one big, aromatic stew.

I loved making it from start to finish, salting the beef, the long and gentle simmer, the two-forked shredding, and the light stewing in tomato sauce. This is slow cooking at its best; simple and uncomplicated. And what is more satisfying than turning tough old cuts or sad leftovers into something juicy and irresistible?

This dish tastes like Grandma’s brisket died and went to heaven. The sum of the toothsome shredded beef with its soft little pockets of fat and connective tissue simmered into submission, the addictively spicy tomato sauce, and the sweet and tender carrots, not to mention how good the savory juices soaking into a nice piece of soft bread are, is actually more than I’m able to describe.

You can blame that on me being out of practice, I guess. Or blame it on the anemia! It makes me light-headed and a little woozy. I guess I’m just going to have to go make another batch.


Carne alla Picchiapò

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound beef shin or brisket
1 cup dry white wine
2 carrots
3 onions
10 black peppercorns
3 cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram or 1/2 tablespoon dried
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1. Salt the beef all over and place on a plate. Refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

2. Place the beef in a large pot with water to cover. Over low heat, slowly bring the water to a very gentle simmer, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Once the water simmers, add the wine, carrots, 2 of the onions, whole, the peppercorns and the cloves. Cook at a low simmer until the beef is fork tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer the meat to a plate and shred it with two forks. Coarsely chop the carrots. The rest of the cooking liquid can either be discarded or reduced to a broth, if desired. It should be strained before serving.

3. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Meanwhile, dice the remaining onion. Cook the onion with a pinch of salt in the oil over medium-low heat until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the marjoram and hot pepper, stir a few times, then add the tomatoes. Cook until the sauce has thickened and reduced a bit, about 15 minutes.

4. Add the shredded beef and carrots to the tomato sauce and mix well. Cook for another 15 minutes. Serve immediately as a sandwich filling on soft bread, served over a slice of crusty bread, or as a stand-alone dish.

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