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Sunday, October 5, 2008

An Expensive Partnership: Recipe

I was inspired to make a roast beef dish from my all-time favorite cook, Marcella Hazan. She suggested using a 2 lb. chuck beef and an Amarone wine. First I went to the liquor store in search of the wine. I have a good store I frequent so I knew they would have it. Sure enough, they did! However, the cheapest bottle was $45 and the most expensive one I saw was $68. When I mentioned it to the shop keeper he gave a chuckle as if to say, "who would have ever suggested you cook with this wine?" He said it was an amazing wine - a beautiful wine but he couldn't have imagined that someone actually suggested to use it, by name. And then he said that likely a substitute would be just fine...obviously he doesn't cook.

Amarone is produced in the region of Veneto by estates that make Valpolicella, an extremely popular wine from Northeastern Italy. The same grapes, along with some others are used to produce Amarone. But the difference between is that Valpolicella is a medium-weight wine meant for consumption with lighter fare with in its first 3-5years and Amarone is a much more robust wine that is perfect with game birds or other such sturdy fare over the course of 7 to 15 years.

The reason for the stylistic difference in these wines is in the winemaking. To produce an Amarone, a winemaker will take the harvested grapes and lay them on a straw mat, often in an attic or other warm room. The grapes then dry over the course of several months creating a raisiny flavor that is a distinctive character of Amarone. Over the drying period, the grapes lose considerable weight and the result is an intensity that would not be present with a traditional fermentation. Amarone is finished dry, but as the grapes pick up a raisiny quality and are high in alcohol, there is the impression of sweetness.

I did recall Marcella indicating that if you had to make a change in the wine, to do so with a dry red that had at least 14% alcohol. So I chose a Ripasso which comes from the same region but is not made the same way. However, the shop keeper told me that in the finishing of a Ripasso they wine makers pour it over the leaves from the grapes of the Amarone which picks up the flavors of that big, bold wine! And it was $12.95; SOLD!

Now off to the butcher. When I picked up the "chuck rib eyes" - one piece of meat, like a roast I was planning to buy, all trussed together nicely - I was a bit confused by the name on the label. It was $7.95 for a 4.2 lb. roast. I was in heaven. Well, not exactly.

The butcher came out from behind the counter and handed me the same piece of meat I had picked up. So I told him that I had been a bit confused by the "rib eye" indication - I've never noticed that before. Well he looked at the label and said he'd be right back. He came back out with my meat wearing a new label - the correct one...only this time it cost $15.95. AHHHHH. Oh well. Off I went to the cashier.

The result of the beef and the wine...excellent. The sauce was so delicious that I could have eaten that all by itself.

Roast Beef in Red Wine
3 lbs. chuck beef roast
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. pancetta
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup Port
2 cups Amarone or substitute (see note above)

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat and add pancetta; saute about 2 minutes. Add the beef into the pot and deeply brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes. Remove beef from pot and add onions. Saute them until they are golden brown - do not burn. Add the celery and the garlic and stir about 30 seconds. Add back the beef and pour the Port wine and 1/2 cup of the red wine over the beef. Turn the beef several times and cover, with lid slightly ajar. Lower heat to medium-low and turn often - about 1/2 hour intervals. Pour remaining wine over the beef each time you turn it. If the wine becomes very low, add 2 tablespoons of water to it.

Cook about 3 hours or until the meat is tender when poked with a fork. Remove the beef from the pot and allow it to rest a few minutes before slicing. Add 2 tablespoons of water to the pot with the remaining juice in it and stir well. Pour the sauce over the sliced beef.

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