Saturday, May 02, 2009

Brisket Stracotto

Maninas from Maninas: Food Matters is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging and this week I have Baby Turnips

baby turnips© by Haalo

Turnips are yet another member of the Brassica family and both the root and the greens are highly edible.

Perhaps it is unfair but I've found regular sized turnips to be a bit wanting in the flavour department - they have a nondescript taste and sole purpose it seems has been as a bulking agent.

However, these baby turnips have surprised me in that they are actually quite tangy and full of flavour and have me reconsidering my notions on turnips. A word of warning, they do not keep very long once picked.

The dish I'm making is based on another one of my mother's classic offerings - Stracotto. Cotto means cooked and stracotto roughly means extra cooked - I suppose you might call it the Italian version of stew or casserole. The important part is the long, slow cooking and it is in that application of heat over a long period that tenderises even the toughest cut of meat.

Here in Australia, my mother would make it with girello, which isn't a particularly tough meat but cooking it this way makes it meltingly soft. As with most dishes, it begins with a soffrito - onion, carrot, celery slowly cooked till golden. The meat is added and cooked briefly to colour all sides - it's then finished with tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and enough wine/water/stock to create a bath in which the meat will cook.

At the lowest possible heat, the meat then cooks for anywhere from 3 to 5 hours, whole dutch carrots, potatoes and peas are added in the last hour or so to create a complete one pot meal.

For this version I've used brisket and replaced dutch carrots for baby turnips. I've also used these baby pink fir apple potatoes

baby pink fir apple potatoes© by Haalo

To maximise the nutrient value, both the turnips and potatoes are cooked with their skins on - just wash them well to make sure all the dirt has gone.

Brisket Stracotto© by Haalo

Brisket Stracotto

1 piece Brisket

1 red onion, roughly diced
1 stalk celery, roughly diced
1 carrot, roughly diced
sprig rosemary, finely chopped
fresh sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
1 can diced tomatoes (or use fresh in season)
tomato paste

baby turnips, topped and tailed
baby pink fir apple potatoes

Prepare the brisket:

brisket© by Haalo

This would be the first time I've ever cooked with brisket probably because this is one of the very few times I've seen it for sale.

To add some flavour, make some little slits along the length of the brisket and jab in some slices of garlic. You could also add lardons of pancetta and a few cloves if you like or if you can't be bothered just skip this step.

Prepare the base:

Heat olive oil and a knob of butter in a deep pot and place over a medium heat. When the butter has melted add in the onions, carrot, celery, rosemary and sage - cook slowly until softened and beginning to caramelise - somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes. This soffrito is so important because it's the base in which you'll find the flavour of the dish.

Season the brisket with freshly ground sea salt and white pepper and place in the pot. Once lightly browned, turn and brown the other side.

Stir a good tablespoon of tomato paste into your crushed tomatoes and add to the pot, along with a few more whole sage leaves and the garlic. Stir well and add enough water/wine/stock to almost cover the meat - turn the heat up until the liquid starts to bubble and then reduce the heat to the lowest you can get.

Cover and let this slowly cook for 45 minutes - turn the meat over and continue cooking for another two hours, returning every half a hour or so to turn the meat over again. The liquid will evaporate with time so turning is important to ensure evenly cooking.

After this time has elapsed, you can now add the potatoes and turnips - the peas are added in the last 30 minutes of cooking.

The exact time will depend on the size and thickness of the meat and the size of the vegetables you use.

To serve:

Remove the meat from the pot and set aside for a couple of minutes before slicing. Spoon the vegetables and sauce onto the base of your serving dish, reserving some of the sauce.

Slice the meat thickly and drape over the vegetables - spoon over with a little of the reserved sauce.

You will be rewarded with a dish where the meat is ultra tender and beautifully infused with the flavours of the vegetables and herbs, which in turn are also flavoured by the meat.

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