OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Using items on hand, here's the beef

Braised Beef in Tomato Sauce Over Polenta (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Braised Beef in Tomato Sauce Over Polenta (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Today's recipe is a great example of improvisational cooking and making the best of what you have on hand.

Pilfering through my freezer, I found a small chuck roast I stashed away in December. I didn't have all of the necessary ingredients to make my favorite pot roast — The Roast, aka Mississippi Roast, made with ranch dressing, au jus mix and pepperoncini peppers. My grocery store had been out of pepperoncini on my last shopping trip before the big storm and I had yet to venture out of the house since the big thaw.

So I turned my attention to what I did have: an onion, the dregs of a bag of baby carrots, a bottle of red wine, canned tomatoes and a tube of polenta.

It wasn't exactly the makings of a ragu, but close. I don't want to disrespect Italian cuisine by calling what I made a ragu, although the cuisine of southern Italy was my inspiration for the meat and the sauce and northern Italy gets a nod for the polenta.

I served this over slices of fried polenta, but it would be just as good over porridge-style polenta. If you don't have any polenta, rice, grits or noodles would be delicious. I have not made this in a slow cooker, but if I were to I would sear the beef as directed and then combine the seared beef with the remaining ingredients (except the polenta) and cook on low for 6 hours, or until the beef is tender.

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Braised Beef in Tomato Sauce Over Polenta

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1½ to 2 pounds beef chuck, cut into chunks
  • 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste OR minced garlic
  • 1 small carrot, roughly chopped OR a handful of "baby" carrots
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup red wine OR beef broth
  • 1½ to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning blend (I use a blend with basil, oregano, red pepper, garlic and thyme)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes and their liquid (puree, crushed, diced or whole)
  • 1 (18-ounce) tube polenta
  • Olive oil, optional
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional

On a plate or shallow dish, combine the flour and a few pinches salt and ground black pepper. Dredge the beef chunks in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess.

In a Dutch oven or heavy, lidded pot, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the beef and brown on all sides. Add the onion, garlic, carrot, Worcestershire sauce and red wine (or beef broth); stir well, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. As the mixture comes to a simmer, add the tomato paste, bay leaf, Italian seasoning and tomatoes. (If using whole tomatoes, break them up with the back of a spoon.) Season generously with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove beef from tomato mixture to a bowl. Discard bay leaf. Using an immersion blender, puree tomato mixture until smooth. Chop or shred beef into bite-size pieces.

Heat polenta according to package directions. I pan fried it in olive oil, but this would be good over porridge-style polenta as well.

Serve sauce and meat over polenta with a garnish of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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