This is one of many versions of a pebronata, a Corsican daube or stew, which is often made with veal or pork. This recipe uses beef and is based on one from Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food.
I say based, because her recipe is typically vague in a way I found hugely frustrating when I was first learning to cook. While her recipes are excellent, what are you to do if you don’t know what she means when she says “cook in a moderate oven until it’s done”?
What, I used to ask myself, is a moderate oven? And for goodness’ sake, I’ve got four people coming round for supper – just how long will it be before it’s “done”?
In this recipe she says airily “add all kinds of herbs and seasoning” and then tells you to add a tomato and pepper sauce towards the end, for which she gives the ingredients but not the method.
With a few more years’ cooking under my belt (which has been let out several notches), I now know enough to interpret Mrs David’s more casual instructions. This, then, is my version of her Pebronata de Boeuf. In rebellion against Mrs D’s vagueness I have spelled out certain things (in brackets) that more experienced cooks should feel free to skip over.
Like all stews this benefits from being made the day before and reheated. You will need a deep, heavy, lidded ovenproof pan or casserole.
It takes two or three hours to make but your kitchen will smell fabulous.
Corsican Beef Stew
2tbsp olive oil
1 to 1.2 kg stewing beef (shin is best), trimmed and cut into large bite-sized cubes
About 425 ml liquid, half and half white wine and beef stock
2 fresh bay leaves, a few sprigs each of thyme, parsley and rosemary, tied in a bundle (a bouquet garni)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pebronata sauce:
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3-4 fat cloves of garlic
2 x 400g tins of tomatoes, chopped (tinned Italian toms taste better than out-of-season fresh ones)
2 red peppers, or whatever colour you have handy, de-seeded and diced
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked from the stalks
4-5 pounded juniper berries (if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, bash them to bits with the end of a rolling pin or the handle of a big knife)
A wine glass of red wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of sugar (cuts the acidity)
Parsley to garnish
Preheat oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.
In your ovenproof pan, heat the oil and brown the beef cubes in batches. (If you crowd the pan, they’ll stew rather than fry. You may need to add a little more oil as you go along.)
When they’re all done, add them back to the pan and pour in enough wine and stock to come three-quarters of the way up the meat. Stir well to get the nice browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Season to taste and tuck in the bouquet garni, nestling it down amongst the meat.
Put on a lid and cook in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the cut of meat used (shin will take longer than what supermarkets often sell as stewing beef, which is often closer to braising steak). The meat should be tender but not disintegrating.
While it’s cooking, make the sauce.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onions until soft and golden. Add the peppers and garlic and fry for a few minutes more, until the peppers have softened slightly. (If you add the garlic with the onions it can burn.)
Pour in the chopped tomatoes and wine, add the thyme and pounded juniper berries, season to taste and cook on a low heat, unlidded, until the sauce until is thick enough that when you drag a spoon through it, you can see the bottom of the pan. This can take up to an hour.
About 20 minutes before the braised beef is fully cooked (poke a chunk with a fork – if it’s still tough it will feel bouncy – if it’s tender you should be able to cut it with the fork) add the tomato and pepper sauce and stir through.
Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary and remove the bouquet garni. Put the stew back in the oven for the remaining cooking time. If it’s a bit too runny for your taste, leave the lid off. Give it a good stir before serving with a little roughly chopped parsley on top.
This is a gutsy, flavoursome stew. It doesn’t need much in the way of accompaniments besides some creamy mashed potato or polenta and some steamed greens, or crusty bread and a crisp green salad.
That and a robust red wine …