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Drink the wine you cook with
This week's recipe: Stracotto
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The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter: Drink the wine you cook with

Let's face it: There's a fine line between "delicate" and "flavorless," and some of the cuts of meat that we prize the most - veal roast, for today's example - may gain from culinary treatments that complement their natural flavors while bringing additional assets to the mix.

Herbs and spices offer an obvious example of this approach, as does the common practice of beginning a recipe with a sauteed mix of chopped aromatic vegetables from garlic and onions to celery, carrots, bell peppers ... you name it.

And of course there's the wine lover's approach to infusing flavor into a dish by cooking with wine. Two weeks ago we talked about concentrating wine flavor in healthy reduction sauces. Today let's take a quick look at a procedure that uses wine even more integrally: Braising.

Call it "braise" ("Brayze") in fancy French, or good old down-home pot roasting, the procedure is the same: Brown a piece of meat or poultry in a bit of fat, usually with aromatic vegetables, then add liquid and cook tightly covered over low heat, either on the stove top or in a moderate oven). This gentle cooking in a moist, flavorful environment yields tender, savory meats even when you use a less-than-tender cut like a rump or chuck roast. Better yet, the flavors are captured in a rich, dark sauce that - defatted and thickened or reduced - makes a natural gravy.

And, finally coming around to the point of today's sermon, if you braise a roast with half of a bottle of decent wine, there's no better accompaniment to the meal than the rest of that bottle. One standard proverb of wine-and-food matching is "Match like flavors with likes," and you're certainly following that advice when you drink the wine you cooked with.

This week's recipe: Stracotto

Usually translated as "braised" or "stewed," the literal translation of stracotto, I'm reliably informed, is "overcooked." But this conveys an inaccurate impression: Stracotto may not be rare meat, but long braising makes a savory, fall-apart-on-the-fork dish that's Italian comfort food at its best. It's usually done with beef, and I've heard of donkey being used in rural parts of Lombardy and the Veneto. This time, it was a triumph with a small veal roast.

This is one of those ancient, country-style recipes that has evolved a host of variations, so you can improvise freely without doing much violence to the concept. Substitute beef rump or shoulder, for example. Use butter instead of oil. Drop the carrot and double the celery. Add some herbs - thyme, bay leaf. Add a dab of tomato paste to the braising liquid. It will still be stracotto!

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two with plenty of leftovers)

Boneless rump roast of veal, about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot
1 stalk celery, with leaves
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 large clove garlic
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 cup beef stock
1 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper


1. Peel the carrot and mince it fairly fine with the celery, onion and garlic. (I chopped them all together in the food processor.) If you're concerned about fat, trim excess visible fat, if any, from the roast.

2. Using a deep, heavy skillet or iron dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Put in the minced vegetables and cook, stirring often, until they're soft and starting to brown, about 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Push the vegetables to the sides of the skillet and put in the meat, turning once or twice until it's nicely browned. Add a little water if the vegetables look too dry, and sprinkle on the flour, stirring it in to avoid lumps. Add the beef stock and wine, reduce heat to very low, cover tightly and cook, turning the meat occasionally, for at least two hours. (If you prefer, you can put the covered pot in a 325F oven, but I find the stove top works just as well and makes it a bit easier to monitor progress.)

4. A few minutes before serving time, remove the meat to a warmed platter. Skim any visible fat from the liquid, and if it seems thin, increase heat and boil, uncovered, until it reduces to the consistency you like. Slice the meat and serve with the sauce. Mashed potatoes or polenta make good accompaniments, with a green vegetable or salad.

MATCHING WINE: As noted, there's no better wine match for a wine braise than more of the same wine you used in the dish. I pulled the cork on a 1997 Barbera d'Asti for this one, and its hearty, fruity-tangy fruit sang one note in the sauce while sounding a harmonious key in the glass. A warmer, plummier Taurasi 1995 Notarpanaro from Southern Italy also went well; a wine perhaps too "robust" for veal alone worked much better with the veal in its dark red-wine sauce.

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Thursday, March 7, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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