I love a good story, especially when it involves how a recipe came to life. Some are romantic or amusing, but more often than not, the birth of a recipe comes from the Mother of Invention. And typically, she's dealing with the necessity of getting a meal on the table.
Such is the case with this week's Tuscan Beef and Black Pepper Stew. As the tale goes, 15th-century terra cotta tile kiln workers in Tuscany, Italy, would put the ingredients for this stew in clay pots at the end of their day and place them in the kiln, which was still hot, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, these simple ingredients were transformed into a delicious dish.
Those ingredients — beef, red wine, garlic and black pepper (possibly also used to camouflage the off-flavor of questionable meat) — haven't changed much over the years, and they play a starring role in my version of this iconic dish.
It's no surprise that Chianti, the famous wine from this region, works well in this dish, but any medium-bodied, dry red wine will work.
A whole head of garlic is also added to the stew, along with what may seem like a copious amount of black pepper. Although you wouldn't be blamed for thinking this combo might overwhelm everything else, strangely, it doesn't. After a low-and-slow braise in the oven, the flavors are tamed and balance perfectly with the beef.
A couple of other ingredients are added and take the dish to the next level. Carrots aren't traditionally used, but I like the touch of sweetness they add, which offsets the wine's acidity. But no problem if you prefer to leave them out.
A few anchovies are also tossed in the pot. Some people have a strong reaction whenever anchovies are mentioned, but trust me; if you didn't know they were in this stew, you'd never guess. I often add anchovies to stews or sauces, as they bring a depth of umami that's hard to find elsewhere.
I like to serve this stew with creamy polenta or mashed potatoes and perhaps some sautéed broccoli rabe. Just make sure you have a loaf of crusty bread on hand to sop up every drop of the delicious sauce.
Tuscan Beef and Black Pepper Stew
Serves 4 to 6.
A generous amount of red wine, black pepper and garlic give this simple stew a memorable flavor. Creamy polenta or mashed potatoes make the perfect accompaniment to this iconic Italian dish. From Meredith Deeds.
• 3 1/2 lb. boneless chuck roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-in. pieces
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tbsp., plus 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more serving, divided
• 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
• 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
• 2 1/2 c. Chianti or other dry red wine
• 1 1/2 c. beef broth
• 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces
• 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
• 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
• 2 bay leaves
• 3 anchovies, mashed
• 1 tbsp. tomato paste
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Season the beef with salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle the flour onto the beef and toss to coat.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high. Working in batches to avoid crowding, brown the beef on all sides, about 8 minutes a batch.
Combine all the browned beef, wine, broth, carrots, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, anchovies and tomato paste in Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Remove from stove and place, covered, in the oven and bake until beef is fork-tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Discard rosemary sprigs and bay leaves.
Serve, garnished with more freshly ground black pepper.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at @meredithdeeds.