Ina Garten couldn’t possibly have known when she started working on her latest cookbook how much we’d all need comfort food right now. She came up with the concept for Modern Comfort Food more than two years ago, figuring the book would arrive just before the presidential election and that we might be a bit stressed. “Little did I know that 2020 would bring so much more,” she says. “Right now I think we just want really simple comforting foods that make us feel good.” In many ways, the book seems meant to be. “It was the easiest one I’ve ever written. I tend to gravitate toward comfort food anyway, and I found that the book just flowed in a way I don’t ever remember.” Many of the recipes are the culmination of years of experimentation and taste memories. This beef stew was inspired by the takeout stews Ina and Jeffrey ate in their tent when they camped outside Paris in the spring and summer of 1971. “Over the years I learned a lot about what makes beef stew really delicious,” she says. “A nice red wine, short ribs instead of chuck. It’s a classic recipe, just done in a more modern way.”
Heat the oil in a large (11- to 12-inch) Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.
Meanwhile, season the short ribs all over with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Brown half the meat in the Dutch oven over medium heat, turning occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until browned on all sides. Transfer the meat to a bowl and brown the second batch. (Don’t cook them all in one batch or they won’t brown!) Transfer the second batch to the bowl and set aside.
Off the heat, add the Cognac and 1/3 cup of the wine to the pot, scraping up any browned bits, then simmer over medium heat for one minute. Add the onions and fennel and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Stir the tomatoes and tomato paste into the vegetables. Add the remaining 2/3 cup of wine, the beef broth, the seared meat (and juices), 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover and bake for 1 1/4 hours, checking occasionally to be sure the liquid is simmering.
Degrease the stew, if necessary. Stir in the carrots and potatoes, cover and bake for one hour longer, until the vegetables and meat are very tender when tested with a fork. Just before serving, stir in the peas and pancetta, taste for seasonings and serve hot in large, shallow bowls.
To make this meal ahead, reheat the stew over medium-low heat, adding beef broth and a splash of red wine.