I simply intuited that I would want to attend a themed dinner chez food writer, teacher, journalist and caterer Stefania Barzini last November (i.e. 2015) in Rome (Stefania can be quite the gadabout – more about her in another post). She and friend Paola run these evenings that bring acquaintances and strangers to the same table, and the atmosphere can be made even more interesting just by that very fact. Food is guaranteed to be special, not just good.
Anyway the menu that evening centred around Tuscany, based on all things bright and beautiful sourced directly from the delightful Badia di Coltibuono estate. Indeed, so directly that Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti herself brought all the ingredients over from the farm (including olive oil and award winning wines) and helped cook the meal. Emanuela’s mother Lorenza De’ Medici is famous for her cooking:
Another reason for me to want to attend the evening was that my darling Uncle James, who had died only just a few weeks before, had treated us to lunch at the Badia only three years previously and the memory was still sweet, if poignantly so now. He was enchanted by the place, the food and the atmosphere … and mesmerised by the enormous cedar tree on the estate.
Uncle James was a pretty good cook himself and made his own bread right to the end. In our family, he is well known for enjoying anything you put before him and making the best cocktails. My son’s mates here in Frascati remember Uncle James’s cocktails too; they sipped them at an age when they couldn’t conceive fully of their after effects but at least they learned the difference between a good and a bad one! Evenings at Uncle James’s tiny house in Chiswick, London, always began with cocktails, served in vintage glasses and accompanied by delicious appetisers. Despite the casual attire he favoured after retirning from a bank job where he always had to look sharp, he always had that touch of class about him. Anyway … back to the Tuscan dinner and the inspiration for me.
The menu at Stefania’s that evening was the following:
Crostini al cavolo nero Crostini toscani classici (Crostini with kale)
Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (Papparadelle with wild boar sauce)
Stinco all’uva (Shank cooked with grapes)
Purè di patate (mashed potatoes)
Semifreddo al caffè (Coffee ice cream)
Cantuccini (Cantucci, the typical Tuscan biscuits)
Trappoline Bianco Chianti Classico
Chianti Classico Riserva Cultus Boni
Chianti Classico Riserva Vinsanto
It was a fabulous meal, I remember plenty of interesting conversation, an easy atmosphere and more than one languge being spoken although it was definitely a predominantly Italian evening. There isn’t much ‘fuss’ at Stefania’s dining table … people have to help themselves and pour their own wine and just get along. (It reminded me a little of the table-side manners we had to adhere to at boarding school. However shy one was, one had to make conversation and just get along.)
The dish that struck me the most was the beef shank, cooked slowly with wine and grapes. The photo below, unfortunately, does not do it any justice.You shall just have to take my word for it – it was melt-in-yout-mouth tender, savoury with a hint of sweetness and there was even the tiniest bit of crunch brought about by the grape pips. I decided that I wanted to make some at home. Thank you Emanuela !
Because home is Frascati, I was going to use Frascati wine naturally. The word for shank in Italian is ‘Stinco’ and hence the title of my adaptation of Emanuela’s recipe.
This is a recipe that takes a long time to cook but it’s not in the least bit difficult. I expect it can be made the day before – some stews taste even better the following day.
So, let’s begin at the beginning. Ask the butcher to cut the beef shank in half; that way it will take less time to cook. Adorn the roasting tray with some onion, garlic, and a few tomatoes. Coat the meat with olive oil.
Turn the oven on at 125°C. That is a temperature I just guessed.
When the shank had cooked for almost 4 hours (i.e. 3 and three quarter hours), I took it out of the oven.
And this is what it looked like. Ravishing already!
Red wine at that, only red wine for this stew. The Frascati Casale Marchese “Rosso Eminenza” – the eminence in question referring to a cardinal in the estate’s owners family, Cardinal Micara. He gave the last rights to the opera composer Giacomo Puccini, how’s that for blogpost trivia.
What I did next was to debone the shank … not hard to do, it literally back apart with my fingers.
Place the meat on top of the grapes .
Add all the ingredients and juices too …
Cover with a lid and when it starts to simmer, cook over a low heat.
This is what it looked like after about one hour. I tasted it and thought it need a little bit more cooking. Without a lid now.
About 15 minutes later, I added two bayleaves.
The meat was almost done.
Time to add some Cognac. About 2-3 tablespoons. The cognac added a bit of ‘depth’, can’t explain better than that. It was a ‘trick’ I used when making coq-au-vin: add a bit of cognac towards the end.
Time to switch the heat off. Please note: total cooking time was from 4 p.m. to 9:40 p.m., i.e. almost 5 hours.And this is when I added twists of pepper. This is a valuable tip I got from Gareth Jones – always add the pepper only towards the very end.
I used a pair of scissors to chop up the shank a bit.
Add some fresh grapes to the mix … just for colour and vitality.
We chose a Principe Pallavicini Mororello to accompany the meal.
It was not the same as Emanuela’s but it was good, very very good. And I shall be making this again when the temperatures drop and we need some slow cooking, slow drinking, bonding and befriending.
In honour of Uncle James, who would have noddingly approved !