Sicilian Beef and Tomato Stew

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At one point while I was making this stew, I had the tomato, garlic, and basil all lined up on my cutting board, and a strange thought popped into my head, completely on its own. Huh. That looks like the Italian flag. The next thought that popped into my head was not that it would be kind of absurd for a country to base its flag on its food, though that’s probably what I should have thought. Nope. Instead, I thought, Wait. Tomatoes came from Mexico. Which I learned in some Spanish class where we focused on everything Europeans took back with them after coming to the Americas (tomatoes, chocolate, corn, potatoes….). So even if the Italian flag is based on food – obviously it’s not – the red can’t be tomatoes.

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Then I had a hunch. Basil probably isn’t native to Italy either. Why this train of thought continued for so long I have no idea. And if you haven’t given up on this post yet, we should probably be friends. Anyway, turns out my hunch was right. Basil is native to Southeast Asia. And that’s where my weird train of thought finally ended.

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And then, I got curious so I did a little research. Garlic is also native to Asia. The flag of Italy, of course, does not take its colors from basil, garlic, and tomatoes, but its green hills, snowy Alps, and bloody independence wars. Or hope, faith, and charity, from a more theological interpretation. Now we’ve all learned something new, thanks so my wandering stream of consciousness. Regardless of its ingredients’ resemblance to the Italian flag, the leftovers from this stew were wonderful to come home to on Friday, which was what will probably be the only day it snows in my town all winter.

This stew is yet another great one from Real Stew, a book which has yet to disappoint me. It starts with chopped onion practically swimming in olive oil.

ImageThen we add in the beef and brown it, and add a little wine and tomato paste.

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Now for the red, white, and green.

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Cover and simmer 3 hours, and dinner’s ready.

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Home-Style Beef and Tomato Stew from Sicily

From Real Stew

Makes 4 servings

Time: about an hour for prep, then 3 hours of waiting while it cooks

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

2 pounds boneless stew beef, trimmed of any large pieces of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt to taste

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 large garlic cloves, slices

2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves

1 bay leaf

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a casserole over medium-high heat. (I used the cast iron pot my mom got me for Christmas last year. I love that thing.) Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the beef, season with salt, and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes.

Whisk together the tomato paste and wine and stir into the casserole. Cook about 5 minutes, until the wine is nearly evaporated.

Add the tomatoes, water to cover (recipe says 1/2 cup but I used a little over 1 cup), garlic, basil, and bay leaf, and season with pepper. Cover the pot, reduce heat to very low, and simmer about 3 hours, until the meat is very tender. Remove the bay leaf. Serve immediately.

This is great as leftovers, and will keep well for 4-5 days. if you want to vary your leftover routine a bit, a small-ish portion of this stew is great over pasta.

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