Simple Sicilian Beef Stew

Served here with polenta, this meal is equally lovely with garlicky mashed potatoes or crusty bread for mopping. Bring the meat to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before cooking.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 3 hr 40 min
  • Active: 55 min
  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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3 pounds beef chuck, patted dry and cut into 2- 2 1/2-inch pieces, at room temp

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil (not EVOO) or neutral oil

4 tablespoons butter

2 onions, peeled and cut into large pieces

2 bulbs fennel, quartered, cored and cut into large pieces

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1 large bay leaf

One 3-inch curl each orange peel and lemon peel

3 to 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped 

3 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste or regular tomato paste

1 1/2 cups Nero d'Avola (Sicilian red) or other red wine of choice (medium- to full-bodied)

2 cups beef bone broth or stock

3/4 cup loosely packed semi-dried tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 cup whole pitted green Sicilian olives such as Castelvetrano or Sant'Agostino

1 1/2 teaspoons (half a palm full) red pepper flakes or 1 tablespoon Calabrian chile paste

8 Roma tomatoes, quartered

EVOO, for drizzling 

A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped and chopped

Basic Polenta, recipe follows, or mashed potatoes

Basic Polenta:

3 cups water

3 cups milk

1 1/2 cups fine- to medium-ground cornmeal

2 teaspoons each salt and coarse pepper 

2 tablespoons butter


  1. Preheat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and oven to 300 degrees F with racks in lower third and upper third of oven.
  2. Pat meat dry and season with salt and pepper. Add some olive oil to the pan, 1 turn of the pan, melt about a tablespoon of butter into oil and when it foams, add about a third of the meat. Brown evenly on all sides and remove, then repeat with more oil and butter as needed and removing meat to platter or tray as you work. Add remaining oil and butter and when butter foams add the onions, fennel and garlic, bay, citrus and rosemary. Partially cover and soften about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste, then stir and add wine. Reduce 2 to 3 minutes, then add beef, stock, semi-dried or sundried tomatoes, olives and chile flakes or paste. Cover and place in oven for about 2 hours until very tender.
  3. Arrange the Roma tomatoes on a small baking sheet, dress with EVOO, thyme, salt and pepper and slow roast them along with the meat, for 2 hours.  
  4. Serve beef on a platter topped with tomatoes or in shallow bowls atop Polenta or potatoes.

Basic Polenta:

Yield: 6 servings
  1. Heat water and milk in a saucepan to a low boil, then whisk in cornmeal and season with salt and pepper. Cook 35 to 40 minutes, whisking occasionally, until thickened and creamy to taste. Stir in butter to serve.
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