Chunks of tender veal gets slow simmered with vegetables in a stew that gets reduced into a luxuriously thick gravy.
The perfect cold weather meal, spezzatino is a classic Italian dish that is the embodiment of a nation’s comfort food, making it one of those recipes you simply need to try.
Likened to the classic beef bourguignon from France, or a rich Hungarian goulash, the spezzatino is Italy’s version of beef stew that uses olive oil and Italian herbs. Simple but so hearty and comforting, this stew can be served up by itself or with some freshly baked crusty bread, or polenta, or even mashed potatoes (my personal favorite serving choice).
How to get the most tender meat:
Veal tends to be very tender on its own, but to get the most succulent bite you can do a few key things:
- First, you can use the right cut of meat. If you’re using beef, chuck is a great option. You’ll want to opt for using cuts and chunks for stewing or use a cut that has some marbling from connective tissue as this contains high levels of natural gelatin that will slowly melt and reduce and make the meat tender which thickening your stew and adding rich flavor.
- Secondly, you can also tenderize the pieces using a meat mallet.
- Thirdly, you should cook your stew low and slow. This will give the collagen and connective tissue a slow and gradual time to properly cook, simmer and break down. If you rush this process you’ll end up with tough pieces of meat.
To make this simple dish you’ll need:
- Veal: I’m using chunks of veal for stewing but you can also use beef chunks if preferred.
- Broth: You can use beef or chicken (bone) broth or stock.
- Onion: White or yellow onions cut into chunks or diced.
- Garlic: fresh whole cloves that we’ll slice or mince.
- Carrots: whole fresh carrots cut into chunks
- Celery: stalks of celery cut into pieces or cubes.
- Mushrooms: Optional, but a handful of mushrooms adds great flavor and umami to our dish.
- Bay Leaves: 1-2 bay leaves will go into our stew.
- Crushed Tomatoes: you can use crushed, whole or tomato sauce. Opt for tomatoes that have nothing added to them except maybe salt.
- Olive Oil: I’m using an extra light olive oil but you can use any olive oil of your choosing.
- Flour: I’m using a gluten free flour blend but you can also use whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour if you’re not gluten sensitive.
- Salt: Pink Himalayan or sea salt can be used.
- Pepper: Pre- or fresh ground black pepper can be used.
- Oregano: You can use fresh or dried.
Making this stew is as simple as:
To start we’ll season our veal/beef chunks with salt and pepper.
Next, we’ll add 1 tbsp of our oil to a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pot. Once it’s hot, we’ll add our veal chunks in in a single layer and brown the chunks. If you need to work in batches depending on the size of the pot, you can do just that. You don’t want to overcrowd your pot. This browning is a critical step for our veal and our stew’s deep and rich flavors so don’t skip this step!
With our veal chunks browned, we’ll remove them from the pot and set them aside for the moment.
Next comes our aromatic vegetables that we’ll slow cook in the same pot as the veal along with a splash of olive oil, which begs the question…
Soffritto -or- Mirepoix?
Both the soffrito/sofrito and mirepoix are comprised of onions, carrots, and celery that is sweated and slow cooked in oil or butter. However in French cooking the mirepoix consists of a 2:1:1 ratio of ingredients by weight whereas the soffrito is more of an eyeballed measurement and can also include garlic and other herbs such as parsley.
Since this is an Italian dish, we’re using the soffrito which in Italian means “slowly fried”. Fun fact: In Italy, the diced vegetables are known as “battuto” before they’re cooked!
Once our veggies are fragrant and slightly softened (this should take 4-5 minutes), we’ll add in our garlic and oregano and cook it for a minute or two more.
Then, we’ll add our veal back into the pot and toss it along with the soffrito…
…before sprinkling our (gluten free or whole wheat) flour over it and tossing our meat and vegetables until they’re well coated. Let it cook for a minute or two more.
Then we’ll “deglaze” our pot with 1/4 cup of stock. Being sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to unstick any browned bits (that’s flavor!).
Next we’ll add in our mushrooms which gives the stew a great umami flavor, along with our crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and any other fresh or dried herbs of your choosing.
Top off your stew with the rest of your chicken or vegetable broth or stock so that the meat and veggies are just covered and give a good stir to fully incorporate everything.
Pop the pot into your preheated oven for 1½ hours to 2 hours, or until the sauce is thickened and the meat is fall apart tender.
Once your stew is done, remove it from the oven and collect and discard the bay leaves and any other spice parts that aren’t edible (for example the sticks of fine thyme).
All that’s left is to taste test and add the finishing touches (if needed) to flavor your stew to your liking.
Here’s some great ideas to zhuzh it up a bit!
- Pancetta/Bacon: bits of crispy rendered bacon of pancetta adds great meaty notes of rich smoky flavor.
- Cocoa powder/ dark chocolate: a touch of dark chocolate or cocoa powder (unsweetened) adds notes of richness and bitterness that balances out the acidity of the tomatoes.
- Soy sauce: If your stew is lacking salt, a hit of soy sauce is a great way to flavor it and add a deeper umami flavor that will complement the mushrooms and tomatoes.
- Worcestershire sauce: A dash or two of this potent sauce plays on all the flavor notes and can really boost the flavors of your stew.
- Herbs: A finishing touch of fresh or dried herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley, chives) are a great way to add both a pop of color and an herbaceousness to your stew, or…
- Gremolata: You can add a bit of gremolata as a garnish. Made of finely minced together garlic, parsley and fresh lemon zest, this adds a bright pop of herby, citrus freshness to your dish and perfectly balances all the flavors out.
And there you have it, a wholesome, hearty stew that can be seasoned to your preference. Clean, simple and a great cold weather meal. Buon appetito, piatto pulito!
Italian Veal Stew (Spezzatino)
- 1½ lbs veal boneless and cut into 1" cubes
- ½ tsp Himalayan salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil divided
- ½ medium onion yellow or white, diced
- 2 medium carrots cut into rounds
- 1 stalk celery diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced or sliced
- ½ tsp Dried Oregano
- 2 tbsp Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour or whole wheat pastry flour
- 5-6 mushrooms button or baby bella, whole, optional
- 1½ cups chicken bone broth or stock
- 8 oz crushed tomatoes
- 2 whole bay leaves (and other herbs such as a sprig of ½rosemary, thyme or sage if you like them)
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- Pat the veal dry using paper towels and season on all sides with salt and pepper. If preferred you can use a meat mallet to tenderize each piece before seasoning.
- Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to an oven proof pot with a lid (such as a Dutch oven or heavy bottom pot) and set on medium-high heat. Add the veal to the pot in a single layer and allow it to brown on all sides.
- Once browned, remove from the pot and set aside. Add in remaining 2 tbsp oil along with onions, carrots, celery, and sauté until fragrant. Add in the sliced garlic along with the oregano and let cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the veal back to the pot and sprinkle the flour over it. Mix the flour into the meat and veggies and allow it to cook for one minute.
- Add 1/4 cup stock to deglaze the pot. Scrape any brown bits off the bottom. Add the mushrooms if using, and top with remaining chicken broth. Pour in enough so that the veal is barely covered.
- Add the bay leaves along with any other herbs you like (such as thyme, rosemary, or sage), and crushed tomatoes. Mix to combine all ingredients and then cover the pot and place it into the preheated oven for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the sauce is thickened and the meat is fall apart tender.
- Remove the pot from the oven and stir your stew. Ensure you remove the bay leaves and any other spices that aren't edible (such as thyme sticks). Your sauce should be thick like a gravy. If not, you can add 1-2 tsp of potato starch into the pot and stir to thicken your sauce. Taste your stew and adjust salt and pepper seasoning to suit your personal taste or finish with additional flavor boosts (see notes).
- Serve your stew by itself or with some crusty bread, polenta, couscous or mashed potatoes. Bring any leftovers to room temp before storing in the fridge for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- To add extra flavor to your stew you can add in the following to finish:
- a pat of butter,
- 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce,
- 1-2 tsp soy sauce,
- 1-2 tsp cocoa powder or a piece of dark chocolate,
- 1-2 tsp fresh herbs or even a gremolata (combination of garlic, parsley and lemon zest)
- Additionally you can use 2 oz of bacon bits or pancetta as a first step. Render your bacon/pancetta until browned, remove the bits from the pot and set aside and use the rendered fat in the pot to sear your veal pieces. Once your stew comes out the oven and is cooked, add the bacon/pancetta bits back into it.