Beef stew with potatoes (Spezzatino con patate)
“Spezzatino con patate” is a beef stew, very common in Italy, especially in the north of the country. No one knows the origins of this dish. The spezzatino has some similarities, both with the Hungarian goulash and the French beef bourguignon; France, Italy and Hungary have all been interconnected for various reasons in the past (19th century), because of Napoleon invading the East or because of the ambitions of the Austro-Hungarian empire who wanted to stretch towards the West. Northern Italy found itself invaded, and in the middle of these wars, and maybe it is here where we all shared something about this dish. In Italy, we use veal because it is the most tender meat and for this reason the dish does not require a long cooking time (between 45 and 60 minutes). If you use tough beef cuts, like beef shoulder for example, it could mean that you may need to cook the meat for some extra time (between 60 and 90 minutes). As usual, I like to cook my dishes with very few herbs, so for this recipe my choice is bay leaf. However, it would not be a mistake if you want to use sage or rosemary instead, but use just one of these.
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- 900 grams (2 lb) Cubed beef (shoulder)
- 450 grams (1 lb) Potatoes (medium size)
- 1 Large onion (finely chopped)
- 200 grams (7 oz) Baby carrots (leave them whole)
- 40 grams (1 1/2 oz) Tomato purée if you want the finished stew to be noticeably red, use 40 g (1 1/2 ounces) of tomato purée, otherwise, for a more pinkish finish, add just 25 g (3/4 ounce).
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 Beef stock cube
- Olive oil for the initial sauté
- Salt and black pepper for seasoning
- Some white flour for coating the meat
- Remove the eye from the baby carrots with a small pairing knife. Then, if you don’t peel them (as I did), give them a good wash, scrub, rinse.
- Coat the meat cubes with flour.
- Take a frying pan, add little oil and sear the meat cubes on a high heat. Remember to shake the cubes before adding them into the pan, so that you get rid of the flour in excess.
- If you have lots of meat cubes to sear, it is preferable to do it in batches. Once the meat has achieved a nice brown colour on one side, it is time to turn the piece of meat. Try to sear all the sides of the piece of meat.
- The searing of the meat should take only few minutes. Use a tray to temporary accommodate the meat pieces once browned (they will stay on the tray only for few minutes).
- While you are searing the meat, make your stock dissolving the stock cube in 500 ml (2 1/8 cups) of boiling water.
- Take a large pan (I used a 28 cm – 11" wide aluminium sauté pan), put a splash of olive oil (with the oil, if you like, you can also add a tiny knob of butter) and sauté the onion on a medium heat.
- After the onions, add the baby carrots.
- Give it a good stir and sauté for a couple of minutes or so, without letting the onion to get too much colour.
- When the onions are lightly coloured, add the meat into the pan.
- Give it a gentle stir.
- Add about 400 ml (1 5/8 cup) of the hot stock into the pan and reserve the remaining 100 ml (1/2 cup) for later (in case the pan content gets too dry). We don't want to cover the meat completely with the stock.
- Next, add the tomato purée and gently stir.
- Add the bay leaves.
- Bring the heat to low and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 60 minutes and during this stage, if the meat looks too dry, feel free to add the remaining 100 ml (1/2 cup) of stock left.
- Next, wash-peel-wash and quarter the potatoes. Put them into a pan with lightly salted cold water.
- Put the pan onto a medium heat and when the water starts boiling, boil for 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes boiling, drain the potatoes and set aside.
- Here is the spezzatino after 60 minutes simmering. Now, it is time to add the potatoes into the pan. Give a gentle stir, so that the potatoes are well mixed into the stew.
- Cover with a lid and continue simmering for another 30 minutes. As I said before, the overall cooking time could vary depending on what type of meat cuts you have been using. As a general guidance I suggest adding the potatoes in the last 30 minutes of the cooking.
- 15 minutes before the end, I remove the lid and if there is still too much liquid into the pan, then finish the cooking without lid. However, once you add the potatoes, these will usually have a thickening effect.
- At the same time, just about 15 minutes before the end, taste and correct the seasoning to your liking, by adding some salt.
- Then, season with black pepper.
- This is the spezzatino after 90 minutes cooking. I checked the meat and it was beautifully cooked and tender.
- In Italy, we serve the spezzatino with polenta and a nice glass of red bodied wine is a must. Buon appetito!
- This is a picture I took when I was in Italy, last winter, at my parents house. It shows spezzatino with potatoes and the unmissable polenta.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!