Recipe below: Beef Shank Ragù with Rosemary, Lemon, and Marrow Purée
I may have jumped the gun a bit with this recipe. I was itching to cook something fall-like, so I bought beef shank at a Catskills farm last weekend and decided I’d make a ragù. It came out rich and complex, which made me happy, but I probably would have appreciated it more in January than on the 75-degree October night when I sat down to eat it. Cooking a sauce that takes three hours or more can uplift a needy soul on a cold day, but now my tiny apartment grew steamy and oppressive and I felt trapped by my own creation. At least I came up with a successful recipe to have ready when it truly becomes cold and I want an excuse to squirrel up in my hut.
When thinking through this dish, I recalled that beef alone could make a one-note ragù. By giving it a base of pancetta, bay leaf, allspice, a cup of stock, and wine, I managed to round out the flavor. And of course the marrow, added at the end, is a huge bonus. I normally don’t like overloading a dish with too many ingredients, but when it comes to tough cuts of meat that take forever, essentially stews, a seeming horde of flavors will meld, leaving no hard edges, just depth and warmth. For me this is one of the techniques that distinguish much cold weather cooking from summer fare. I often cook a little harder in the winter, but it’s worth it.
P.S. I’m leaving for Rome in a few days and plan on spending a good amount of time exploring the new or improved food markets there. I’m hoping to post a few market podcasts, so please stay tuned. And it’s porcini season.
Beef Shank Ragù with Rosemary, Lemon, and Marrow Purée
(Serves 4 as a main-course pasta dish)
2 wide center-cut slices of beef shank, about 1½ inches thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 ¼-inch-thick round of pancetta, well chopped
1 large onion, cut into small dice
2 thin carrots, cut into small dice
1 fresh bay leaf
About ½ teaspoon ground allspice
4 big sprigs rosemary, the leaves well chopped
5 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth
1 35-ounce can plum tomatoes, lightly drained and chopped
The grated zest from 1 large lemon
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped
1 pound fresh tagliatelle
A chunk of grana Padano cheese
Choose a large casserole fitted with a lid. Salt and pepper the beef shank on both sides. Pour about a tablespoon or so of olive oil into the pot, and let it get hot over a medium-high flame. Add the shanks, and brown them well on both sides. Take the meat from the pot, and set it aside for a moment.
Add the pancetta to the pot, and let its fat cook off. Add the onion, carrot, bay leaf, allspice, and the rosemary and the thyme. Sauté until everything is soft and fragrant. Return the meat to the pot. Add the wine, and let it bubble for about a minute. Add the chicken broth and the tomatoes and a bit more salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil. Now turn the heat down really low, cover the pot, and simmer, turning the meat a few times, until the meat is very tender, probably around 3 hours. Free-range meat can take even longer. If you prefer, stick the casserole in a 325-degree oven.
When tender, pull out the beef shank, and let it sit until it’s cool enough to handle. Skim the sauce. With a small spoon, scoop out all the marrow, and purée it in a food processor along with a big ladleful of the sauce. Return this to the pot.
Now shred the meat up, and add it to the sauce. If the ragù is too thick, add a little more chicken stock or water. Check for seasoning.
When ready to serve, cook the tagliatelle, and transfer it to a big pasta serving bowl. Add a big drizzle of olive oil, the lemon zest, and the parsley. Toss gently. Reheat the ragù if needed, and pour it over the pasta. Add about a tablespoon of grated grana Padano, and toss well. Serve hot, bringing the rest of the cheese to the table.