As the leaves turn colour, temperatures drop, and the days grow shorter, my culinary cravings turn to stews, braises, and other rich filling dishes. These comfort foods can be made with inexpensive cuts of meat, and their slow cooking fills the house with delicious aromas. I have lots of variations on this theme in my repertoire - from osso buco to braised short ribs - including this one, which combines the meltingly tender and meaty slow-cooked stewing beef with the toothsome texture of risotto topped with fresh shaved parmesan cheese. In the finished product the grains of rice are an unusual dark colour, making this a strikingly attractive, as well as delicious, dish.

To prepare this, you will need to plan ahead, because the beef must be braised in advance, ideally a day or so before preparing the final dish. Once the beef is prepared, however, it takes less than half an hour to put together the final dish.

A word about risotto: preparing it scares a lot of people because they mistakenly believe it requires constant stirring and tending. Not true! A quick stir every minute or two will suffice, so you will have time to open a bottle of red wine and toss a bag of fresh greens with a simple vinaigrette before the dish is complete. Then sit down to a delicious and hearty, but still elegant, dinner for four.

For the beef

  • 2 tblsp (30 ml) olive oil
  • 1 lb (450 gr) stewing beef, cut into 2 inch (5 cm) pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) diced thick cut bacon or pancetta
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup (240 ml) red wine
  • 2 cups (480 ml) beef stock, preferably homemade
  • 3 fresh roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • small chunk parmesan rind (optional, but tasty)

To braise the beef

Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C).

Heat the oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat beef dry, season with salt and pepper, and brown in batches - don't crowd them; the pieces shouldn't be touching - until browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl.

Reduce heat slightly and add bacon or pancetta, frying till browned. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook till softened, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook till fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add rosemary and wine and bring to boil, stirring to scrape any fond (browned bits) off the bottom of the skillet. Add stock, tomatoes, bay leaf, and parmesan rind, and bring to boil, then return beef to the pan.

Cover the skillet and place in the oven, baking for 2 hours or till meat is tender. Remove from oven and let come to room temperature.

Remove the meat from the liquid and cut into 1 inch chunks; cover and place in fridge. Strain the stock into a medium sized bowl, pressing down on the solids to extract every bit of flavour, and refrigerate till fat congeals, then skim off and discard the fat. (Can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.) You should have 5 cups (1200 ml) of liquid; if you're a little short, add some beef or chicken stock.

For the risotto

  • 5 cups (1200 ml) beef braising liquid (see above)
  • 2 tblsp (30 ml) olive oil
  • 2 tblsp (30 ml) butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1-1/2 cups (360 ml) arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) red wine
  • diced braised beef (see above)
  • fresh parmesan to taste - use a vegetable peeler to shave off thin curls

To make the risotto

Heat the stock in a saucepan until steaming.

Heat the oil and half the butter in a pot with a heavy bottom over medium heat. When butter has stopped sizzling, add the shallot and sauté till softened, about 2 or 3 minutes. Add the rice and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add the wine and cook gently, stirring, till liquid is absorbed. Then add the braising liquid, half a cup at a time, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. When you can see the bottom of the pot as you stir, it's time to add another batch of liquid. Continue till the rice is creamy, and has a bit of a bite in the centre of the grain - about 18 to 20 minutes, no more. You should use most or all of the braising liquid. Add the beef during the last five minutes of cooking.

Remove from heat, stir in remaining butter, and check seasonings: add more salt and/or pepper if desired. Spoon onto plates and garnish with cheese. Serve immediately. Yum!

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