Forty years ago, when Lidia was 12 and living in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy, with her parents and brother, a Catholic relief organization provided them with safe passage and the proper visas to emigrate to America. But Lidia and her parents had to go to the Vatican to get the blessing of the pope at the time, Pope Paul VI. So one can only imagine how thrilled she was to cook not one, not two, but three meals for the current pope during his visit to New York City. And Pope Benedict XVI turned out to be a serious eater, which is not surprising, given the fact that his mother was a hotel chef.
Trieste is situated towards the end of a narrow strip of land lying between the Adriatic Sea and Italy's border with Slovenia, which lies almost immediately south, east and north of the city. It is located at the head of the Gulf of Trieste and throughout history it has been influenced by its location at the crossroads of Germanic, Latin and Slavic cultures. In 2009 it had a population of about 205,000 and it is the capital of the autonomous region Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trieste province.
Trieste was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy from 1382 until 1918. In the 19th century it was the most important port of one of the Great Powers of Europe. As a prosperous seaport in the Mediterranean region Trieste became the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (after Vienna, Budapest, and Prague). In the fin-de-siecle period, it emerged as an important hub for literature and music. However, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Trieste's union to Italy after World War I led to some decline of its "mittleuropean" cultural and commercial importance. Even if it enjoyed an economic revival during the 1930s, after WWII it suffered because of the border changes and, throughout the Cold War, Trieste has been a peripheral city of western Europe.
I first saw her make this recipe in her show Lidia's Italy, a few years ago and immediately tucked it away and promptly forgot about it. It is amazing what reminded me of it. A tough piece of sirloin. I had asked my daughter to buy some for shish kebabs and the meat she purchased at Walmarts was tough as nails. We never buy our meat there but that was where she was headed and why not? sirloin is sirloin, right? wrong! So with what I had leftover, uncooked, I started thinking of stews to cook the meat to death and possibly be able to eat it. That's when I remembered this recipe and the result was one of the best meals I have eaten all year.
Not only was the recipe fabulous, it was authentic, just like the flavors I've tasted in Italy which are so hard sometimes to replicate back home. An then I realized the difference...the method used to cook the meat. It was nothing like what I had ever tried. First of all, you didn't brown the meat, you really stewed the meat in its own juices; and secondly, there was no liquid added while cooking, just a little at the end. I'll have to admit I almost cheated and browned it first but if I have ever learned one lesson, it is to try a recipe first the way it's written and then adjust and improvise the second time.
If you want to be a serious cook, do try this recipe. Not only will you come out looking like a pro, you will learn a thing or two!
This really is a winter recipe but I couldn't wait to make it and share it with you. It's perfect for a weekend family dinner.
Servings: 6-8 servings
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 or 3 large onions (1½ pounds), peeled and cut in thick wedges
2½ pounds trimmed boneless beef chuck or round, cut for stewing (1-½ inch chunks)
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt or to taste
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 branch fresh rosemary, with lots of needles
3 cups cold water
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons tomato paste
Pour the olive oil into the saucepan, set over medium-low heat, and drop in the onion wedges. Toss to coat in oil, season with ½ teaspoon salt, and cook gently for 3 or 4 minutes, until sizzling and softening.
Spread the onions out on the pan bottom and drop the beef cubes on top of the wedges, filling the pan in one layer. Sprinkle another ½ teaspoon of the salt, all the paprika and oregano over the meat and drop in the rosemary. Without stirring or turning the meat pieces, cover the pan tightly. Heat the meat -- with the seasonings on top and the onions below -- so it starts to release its juices and stew. Check once or twice to see that the pan liquid is bubbling and that the onions are melting (not burning) but don't stir.
After half an hour or so, set the cover ajar a couple of inches and adjust the heat to keep the juices bubbling and slowly reducing. As they thicken, stir up the onions so they don't burn and tumble the meat in the pan.
Continue cooking, partially covered, for another half hour or so. When the juices are concentrated and thick in the pan bottom, prepare the goulash sauce: Pour 3 cups of cold water in the small pan and whisk in the flour. Set over low heat and continue whisking until the flour is dispersed with no lumps, then whisk in the tomato paste. Heat gradually, whisking often, until the tomato-flour water just comes to a bubbling boil. Pour it into the big saucepan and stir well, turning the meat chunks over,they should be nearly covered in sauce and blending in the thick pan.
Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, put on the cover, slightly ajar, and cook 45 minutes to an hour, until the meat is quite tender and the sauce somewhat reduced. Season with more salt to taste. Turn off the heat and let the goulash cool in the pan for several hours before serving, or refrigerate overnight.
Reheat slowly, stirring now and then, until the meat is thoroughly heated; thin the sauce with water if it has thickened too much. Serve hot. I served it with spaetzel!
Recipe Lidia Bastianich