It was at a small, side walk café on a cobbled street outside of Stuttgart, Germany where I first enjoyed beef heart ragu. The waiter’s suggestion of a dish titled Ragu Cuori di Manzo resulted in a serving of rich, dark and aromatic sauce with strips of beef and vegetables. Had I realized Cuori di Manzo translated to beef heart, I am not sure I would have ordered the dish. I thoroughly enjoyed the ragu and completely changed my mind about this part of the beef.
A bit out of the ordinary, it is actually one of the most tender parts of the beef once the fat and silver skin have been cut away. If your butcher does not have one on hand, ask him to order one about 7 – 10 pounds and then trim the outside to remove most of the fat. This may seem like a rather large size for 4 servings but once the fat and the silver skin are trimmed away, there will be more trimmings than meat. Cutting away the silver skin is a bit similar to filleting fish and is done easiest by cutting the heart into chunks.
In this recipe, the meat is cut into thin slices, browned and braised in a red wine broth in the oven. Cooking time will range from 1 ½ – 2 hours depending on the thickness of the broth. If at the end of the initial 1 ½ hour cooking time the broth still appears runny, remove the lid from the pot for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Quality ingredients are critical for a rich sauce. The wine needs to be a quality dry red such as La Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva, 2011 that may seem a bit extravagant to use in cooking but the result is incredible and wont disappoint. You can serve the remaining wine to your guests.
Leaving the herbs, thyme and bay leaves, whole and loose allows from easy removal before serving. While they could be placed in a cheesecloth bag, the loose herbs seem to release more of their flavors when stirred loosely through the broth.
Such a bold flavor at the center of an Italian focused dinner needs balance with the remaining dishes. The thickness of the pasta with Semolina Pasta provides a substantial base to the ragu, but the appetizers and sides should go a bit lighter. Prosciutto di Parma Cantalupi and Naples Eggplant Parmesan Bites provide fantastic starters . The Isle of Capri Melted Caprese Salad is refreshing as a side. As for dessert, if it is Italian, it has to be tiramisu. Venetian Tiramisu provides a wonderful finish to this dinner without being overly rich and filling.
We are on a slow drive through Italy and the music is paving the way. From Andrea Bocelli to Tony Renis with a bit of Puccini in the mix; time to pour a glass of Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin 2007 and be transported to that Italian villa in the countryside.
1 beef heart, 7-10 pounds
2 T unsalted butter, divided
½ c extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
2 celery stalks, cut into 1” pieces
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 T flour
½ t salt
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
1 c dry red wine, such as La Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva, 201
3 c beef broth
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs thyme
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place the beef heart on a cutting board. Trim off all visible fat from the outside. Cut the heart in half and then into workable chunks, about 6-8. Using a thin sharp knife, cut the silver skin from the meat. Some pieces will be too thin to trim. Discard.
Once you have the meat trimmed, cut into thin slices.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter with ¼ cup olive oil over medium high heat in a cast iron kettle or other heavy duty pan. Add the onion, carrots, and celery; sauté until soft but not browned, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove the mix.
Add the remaining butter and olive oil to the pan. Reduce heat to medium low to melt the butter. Combine flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add meat and toss to coat. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the meat to the pan, shaking to remove excess flour. Cook, stirring occasionally, until meat is browned, about 10-12 minutes. Add the vegetable mix back to the pan. Stir to mix.
Add the wine, broth and tomato paste. Cook over medium high heat until the sauce begins to simmer. Add the bay leaves and thyme. Remove from heat. Cover tightly with lid and place in pre-heated oven.
Braise in the oven for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 20 minutes. At the end of 1 ½ hours, check for the sauce thickness. If it is still a bit runny, remove the lid and cook up to an additional 3- minutes. Remove from oven. Cover and let sit until ready to serve, up to a hour. Can be reheated on the cooktop.
Evenly divide the meat and vegetables with a slotted spoon between 4 dinner plates. Add any remaining sauce to the servings as needed; top each with ½ tablespoon parsley. May be served with pasta, such as Homemade Pasta, or polenta.
Rich and complex, the Boulevardier is considered the strongest child of a Negroni. The use of rye whiskey deepens the cocktail and reminds one of an early Autumn evening.
Smooth and deep, this is the perfect after dinner drink with dessert.
A hearty meat sauce requires an Italian red. Moccagatta Barbaresco Basarin 2007 would be an excellent choice. Made from the Nebbiolo grape, it is highly aromatic and has the acid-tannin structure required here.
A Ribbolla Gialla wine will have enough acidic to stand up to the heavy meat sauce. Rome Vare Vineyard Ribolla Gialla 2013 has the tannic bite of a slightly ripened persimmon but the rich aromas of cloves and honey.
Malty and full bodied, Sierra Nevada Stout is dark and rich. It’s deep roasted flavor compliments the roasted meat sauce.
For those looking for a lighter beer to counter the earthiness of the ragu, Radeberger Pilsner works well. This German Pilsner has a spicy hops character with a crisp edge.
Prosciutto di Parma Cantalupi A classic Italian dish that elevates the flavor intensity by adding Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The wonderful flavors of Eggplant Parmesan compacted into bite size mounds!
A wonderfully cream, coffee infused dessert! Serve with an espresso or Coffee Time Espresso Martini for the perfect close to an Italian themed dinner.