When it comes to comfort foods, people can get pretty passionate about their favourites. Maybe you swear by your Mum’s Mac & Cheese, because it was always there to warm you up after an outdoor netball game on a rainy Saturday morning. Or perhaps your Great Aunt Em’s Spag Bol is your go-to, because it reminds you of Sunday night dinners at your Nan’s when you were little.
The one thing that comfort foods usually have in common? They’re attached to comforting memories. Good food is one thing, but the feelings that a traditional family recipe can evoke? Priceless.
Born in Belarus, Former Masterchef contestant Anastasia Zolotarev and her family moved to Ukraine when the Soviet Union dissolved, before making the tough decision to move to a better life in Australia, landing in Brisbane when she was just five. Food has always been a big part of life, love and family for Anastasia.
Anastasia’s Mother-in-Law’s recipe for Braised Beef in Red Wine with Polenta is a traditional comfort food in Lombardy, Italy (where Anastasia’s husband is from). This particular recipe has been passed down for generations and, now, Anastasia has generously offered to share her favourite comfort food with the Canningvale family!
Beef in Red Wine Sauce
- 1kg brisket/chuck steak or other cut suitable for slow cooking
- 1 large onion (finely diced)
- 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
- 1 large celery stem (finely diced)
- 2 carrots (cut into circles)
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 2 cups red wine
- 1 bottle/700g jar of tomato passata
- 500ml beef bone broth
- 2 sprigs of fresh oregano + extra for serving (leaves only)
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary (leaves only)
- 1 sage leaf or a small bunch of thyme (optional)
- 1 cup polenta
- 4 and half cups water
- 60g butter
- 50g grated parmesan + extra for topping
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
1. Rinse the meat and pat dry with a paper towel
2. Add a very large drizzle of olive oil into a pot. Place the meat, whole, into the pan and sear on each side on a medium-high heat. Adjust the heat to higher if needed – it needs to be sizzling
3. Once the meat has formed a dark golden crust on each side, remove and set aside on a plate
4. Add the celery, onion and garlic into the residual oil and cook for 5 minutes on a medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until cooked down with golden edges. Add the tomato paste and stir through
5. Add the wine and continue to stir, mixing the ingredients together. Then add the passata and bone broth and mix well. Place the meat back into the pot and add the herbs
6. Season with pepper and a bit of salt. Cover with the lid and increase the heat. Once the mixture is simmering, reduce the heat to low so that there is a gentle simmer, and cook for 3 hours or until the meat is falling apart and you can use a fork to gently separate it
7. Remove the brisket temporarily. Transfer the sauce into a food processor or use a hand stick blender to process until its smooth and thick. Return to the pan and bring to a medium boil, cook the sauce without a lid, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes until the sauce has reduced approximately ¼ of the amount. Add the brisket back in, taste and give it a final season with salt. Close with a lid and set aside
While the sauce is reducing, prepare the polenta
8. Fill a pot with 4 cups of water and add in the polenta. Stir through using a whisk and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook for approximately 30-40 minutes and make sure to give it a mix every 5 minutes and more often at the end (add in the extra half a cup of water if you find the mixture needs it throughout the cooking process). Remove the polenta from the heat. Add in the butter and parmesan and stir through. Taste and season with a bit of salt
9. Divide the polenta and beef in red wine sauce on to plates and top with the extra fresh oregano and parmesan
A few tips from the chef herself…
As I am writing this, my kitchen smells incredible! With the red wine cooking down the brisket and the fresh oregano and rosemary from the garden. It’s intoxicating!
I love slow cooking in the winter and this dish reminds me of my husband’s home in Northern Italy. Last time we were there it was snowing and absolutely freezing! We ate lots of comforting winter warmers and my mother-in-law always makes the most beautiful polenta.
She normally cooks the polenta slowly and adds in salt and olive oil and serves it with Osso Bucco or another rich slow cooked meat sauce. Sometimes if we have polenta on its own she will bring out a plate of local mountain cheeses and we mix it through, making the creamiest, most delicious dish! In this recipe I’ve added in Parmesan and lots of butter to the polenta, but feel free to mix it up and serve it with a creamy cheese like Fontina or keep it dairy free with just olive oil and salt.
I like to use a wine from the Chianti region of Italy, but feel free to use any medium bodied red. I recommend a wine that is not too expensive but not too cheap either as you do want the meat to be complemented. Something you’re happy to drink alongside the meal is a good indicator that you’ve picked the right wine!
As for the meat, I’ve chosen brisket however please feel free to also use chuck, gravy steak or anything that is fresh at your local butcher that’s recommended for slow cooking.
There is a slight variation in the cooking time for the polenta. If the polenta is coarser it needs extra time, if it’s thinner then it will need less. I recommend also using the specific brand’s instructions to help guide you in the cooking process.
Buon appetito! Be sure to share your final culinary art with us @Canningvalelove