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Beef in Barolo

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Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.

Today: Beef braised in red wine, Italian-style.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about James Beard's Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic as Clara's formal introduction to the culinary canon. Much like that iconic recipe, which hinges on vermouth as the cornerstone of its particular and seductive sauce, this one leans heavily on wine -- and a good deal of it.

Mario Batali's Beef in Barolo is a great example of a dish that is more than the sum of its parts. I owe Amanda full credit for introducing me to it. Mario's version has you slow cook a whole brisket in half a bottle of Barolo, some homemade tomato sauce and a handful of aromatics until the beef is fork-tender and the sauce is rich and supple. It is a soul-satisfying dish, a few rungs higher on the gastronomic ladder than your grandmother's brisket without requiring much more effort.

More: The most googled brisket ever, served at the Obamas' first Passover Seder.

Over time, I've made some modifications to this classic -- enough, you could argue, to turn it into a different dish altogether. But the inspiration is still pure Batali.

I typically use short ribs instead of brisket; they're easier to brown and pretty irresistible when bathed in red wine and tomato and coaxed into a state of yielding tenderness. At Amanda's recommendation, I tried upping the quantity of carrot. Her infinite wisdom was confirmed, as our forks keep finding their way back to those melting discs of orange, nestled between chunks of meat.

To tame some of the acidity from the tomatoes and wine, I usually add a cup or so of good, homemade beef stock. This also cuts some of the tannins. Plus, you get more sauce, which is never a bad thing in my book. I also throw in a few sprigs of thyme, because I just can't help myself.

More: When all's said and done, use those short rib bones to make some more stock.

One of the best things about this dish is its ability to transform itself when pressed into service as leftovers. Usually, I serve the short ribs with mashed or boiled potatoes, and then shred the rest and stir it back into the sauce to be folded into pasta or heaped on a soft roll for a rich man's version of a sloppy Joe.

One important note: I hardly ever use actual Barolo for this. A bottle will set you back at least $40, and while I love my child, she doesn't know Barolo from Adam. A decent Chianti will do the job just fine.

Beef in Barolo

Beef in Barolo

Adapted from Mario Batali

Serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds bone-in short ribs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large onion, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 stalks celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups Barolo or other hearty red wine like Chianti or Barbaresco
1 1/2 cups homemade tomato sauce or diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: cooking for kids, weeknight cooking, mario batali, beef in barolo, braised beef, italian

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