Monday, January 27, 2014

White wine with beef? Yessiree

One of At First Glass' more respectable "hits" -- no pun intended. Over 1,100 views. People like "actionable" information.

Quite a few years ago, I clipped out from the Chicago Tribune, and then prepared, a recipe for "Greek beef and potato stew on pasta." It was unique in combining among other things beef, garlic, cinnamon, and white wine, although what was Greek about it I have never learned.

I made it again today, but I regret I can produce no photographs. The camera was away, serving the needs of the high school senior in the house who is also one of the photographers for the school newspaper. In lieu of pictures, here is the original recipe for the stew:

1 pound boneless lean beef round, cut in cubes;
1 tsp. salt; freshly ground pepper;
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil; 2 large sweet onions, halved, sliced;
2 large cloves garlic, minced; 1 tsp. dried rosemary;
2 sprigs parsley; 3 bay leaves;
1 tsp. ground cinnamon; 1/4 tsp. allspice;
2 cups water; 1 and 1/4 cups white wine;
2 large red potatoes, cubed;
1/2 pound rotini pasta;
2 tsp. balsamic or red wine vinegar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and brown the meat in hot oil in a heavy pot. Remove the meat, and cook the onions in the drippings for about 5 minutes, until they are soft. Remove half the onions and set them aside for later. Add the garlic, rosemary, parsley, bay, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and allspice to the remaining onions in the pot. Stir well, then add water and wine. Return the meat to the pot. Bake, tightly covered, about 1 and 1/2 hours.
Stir the potatoes into the stew. Return to the oven and bake, covered, about 30 more minutes, until the potatoes are soft.

Meanwhile, cook pasta and drain.

Remove the stew from the oven, discard the bay leaves and parsley, and add the reserved onions and the vinegar. Serve stew over pasta.

As long as you include the main flavor ingredients -- the wine and the cinnamon -- this is a forgiving recipe. I was short on parsley, rosemary, and vinegar, but substituted sage and basil, and I always like to cook my beef stews far longer than a mere two hours. You may thicken the sauce or not as you like. And, a single piece of beef chuck is simpler to deal with than dozens of little beef stew cubes.

The result is unusually strong, tangy and savory, with a taste that does not necessarily shout "cinnamon" to those suspicious souls who think that spice only belongs in apple pies. Since I used chardonnay for the "dry white wine," I followed the rule of drinking with dinner the wine used to make dinner. And the chardonnay was surprisingly delicious with the beef. It seemed to lose its hot, woody bite, and to become supple, rich, and perfectly fruity without any hint of sweetness. Kevin Zraly in The Complete Wine Course describes chardonnay as the white wine masquerading as a red -- just as pinot noir is the red wine masquerading as a white -- and suggests that it is the only white that can pair with beef. (Our ancestors would disagree, and include champagne in that category.) The success of this pairing prompted me to consider the possibilities of a chardonnay with steak, or with a hamburger (hold the pickle, probably?).

Looking over the recipe and the omissions and substitutions I inflicted on it, it occurs to me that anyone following it more closely might come up with a far different-tasting dish. Rosemary and balsamic vinegar alone are powerful flavors, and of course chardonnay is not what everyone would consider steely dry.

This particular one, by the way, was a Frontera 2006, from Concha y Toro, in Chile -- $4.99 at the grocery store. There is an interesting post at Vinography about chardonnays and other wines that are, um, popular in America, and way down in the comments someone mentions the circumstances under which he would drink Concha y Toro ... too.

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