“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” –George Miller
Happy New Year! If you were foolish enough to make food related resolutions, today is the day to forget them. If you resolve to change anything about the way you eat, I beg of you to simply eat well, to eat whole foods and perhaps, if anything, to eat just a bit less at each meal. But for the sake of living well, do not ban butter. Or wine or beef or potatoes, all of which you will find in this luscious, hearty recipe.
This recipe for Sugo di Carne comes from Portland’s longstanding and divine little Italian eatery Caffe Mingo. I was first introduced to Caffe Mingo in my mid-twenties and I swear this restaurant is where my taste buds really came to life. If you haven’t been, it’s a tremendously tiny restaurant in a trendy, old Portland neighborhood. You have to put your name in for a table and then disappear into a neighboring bar for 45 minutes to an hour to sip a cocktail and stare at your cell phone like a 16 year-old girl. But the wait is worth it: the pasta is made fresh each day, as are many of the cheeses. The wine selection is perfect year-round and the view into the open kitchen is better than watching The Food Network, especially if you’re dining solo at the heavily lacquered wooden bar. I have many years of fond Caffe Mingo food memories and for a long time I ached to recreate their Sugo di Carne at home. Then one fine evening I spotted a stack of postcards on the bar, picked one up and flipped it over to find the treasured house recipe.
I will say this about this recipe: don’t mess with it. It is deceptively simple and yet it’s this very simplicity that creates a final dish that will transport you at the first bite. Close your eyes and you’ll swear you’re in Italy, the weather is fine, and days and weeks of adventure and exploration await you. I have made this dish for dinner parties small and large and it’s always a smashing success. This version serves 4-6 quite generously, 8-10 if you add a salad and some bread, and if you have leftovers, consider yourself quite lucky and enjoy them.
Caffe Mingo serves their Sugo di Carne atop penne pasta, but if you’re in the mood for real comfort food, as we were on Christmas Eve, it’s fantastic served with mashed potatoes and cooked carrots. On this particular evening, I broke my own “don’t mess with this recipe” rule, roughly chopped a few carrots and tossed them into the top of the pot about two and a half hours into cooking. If you do the same, do not stir the carrots into the stew.
A note about the wine: cook only with wine you are delighted to drink. Some people think it’s wasteful to use good wine in food that will be cooking for a long time, but those people are misinformed and you should decline their dinner invitations. The flavor of the wine will be imparted to the food, so it’s important to cook with wine you enjoy the taste of. I found this Chianti at New Seasons and while it was in the $10 price range, it was dark and delicious.
Sugo di Carne
3 lbs Beef Bottom Round, cut into 2″ pieces (your butcher can do this for you)
1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 red onions, sliced
2/3 bottle of Chianti
1 28-ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes
1 Cup Espresso (if you don’t have a machine at home, buy a cup’s worth from your local coffee shop)
salt and pepper
Grated parmesan cheese for serving
Season the meat with salt and pepper and let it sit at room temperature for about a half hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Using a large Dutch oven, or similar stove-top and oven-friendly pot, melt the butter over medium heat and saute the onions for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, add the meat, wine, espresso, and the can of tomatoes with their juice. Cover the pot and place it in the oven where you will simply leave it for 4 hours. Don’t open the lid to check on it. Just go take a nap or a bubble bath or relax with a good book and the remaining Chianti. If you’re having guests over for dinner, this is the perfect time to clean your house!
After the 4 hours have passed, remove the meat from the Dutch oven with a slotted spoon and then shred it using a couple of forks. For the sauce that remains in the pan, you’ll want to pass this through a food mill. If, like me, you don’t own a food mill you can use a hand mixer. Add the shredded meat back into the blended sauce, serve over pasta al dente or mashed potatoes with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and enjoy!
Yours in the kitchen.