Brasato al Barolo (braised beef in Barolo)

Marc Millon is a polymath. A food writer, a wine importer and a web designer. He patiently steered me into getting my first website up and running 5 years ago and has no less than four himself including the wine side of his activities.

It includes some splendid recipes from his winemaker friends including this fabulous slow cooked stew from the mother of Mario Fontana of Cascina Fontana which he recommends making with good Barolo. Here's how Marc justifies the extravagance!

"I have long maintained that, yes, it really is worthwhile using good - and even great - wine to cook with. The same elements that make a wine great to drink - concentration, complexity, structure - most definitely can come through in the finished dish. And of course, drinking the same wine alongside that dish inevitably results in the best food and wine match you can produce (provided that you start out with good or great wine in the first place).

When our Club Vino group visited Barolo, we had the rare treat to enjoy Mario's mother Elda's classic Brasato al Barolo, beef braised in Barolo. This is something that you usually only sample in a winemaker's home, where the 'vino della casa' just happens to be that king of wines.

Would I open a bottle of Barolo to cook with? Yes, I would, and I have. Given that many keen home cooks go to great effort to source the finest and best ingredients to cook with, there is really no reason why not. And as we know from Mario's meal, the result really is superlative.

Brasato al Barolo

2 kg piece of best topside beef
1 bottle of Barolo
4 carrots, sliced
2 onions, chopped
3 legs of celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
Small bunch of fresh rosemary
1 red pepper, cored and cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Meat broth
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the meat in a large bowl with half bottle Barolo wine, garlic, bay leaf, rosemary, a splash of good olive oil, and salt and pepper. Allow to marinate overnight. *see note below

Remove the meat, and pat dry with kitchen towel. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat olive oil and butter in a large casserole, and brown the meat all over. Add the chopped vegetables and cook until soft. Add the Barolo wine marinade, bring to the boil, then reduce flame to very low, cover and gently braise for around 2 hours. Check from time to time, and add the remaining Barolo wine (less the obligatory glass or two that is the cook's perk), topping up with a little meat broth if necessary.

Once cooked - the meat should be tender, but not falling apart- remove the meat and allow to cool. Defat the cooking liquid, and liquidize to incorporate the vegetables. Reduce to a sauce consistency and adjust seasoning. Meanwhile, cut the beef into thickish slices. Before serving, add the sliced meat into the casserole, cover with wine cooking sauce, and gently reheat. Serve a slice of meat, bathed in the delicious Barolo sauce.

Brasato al Barolo should be accompanied by carrots cooked in butter, mashed potato, or polenta.

Wine suggestion: what else but Barolo? Nothing else will do.

* My friend Nello's trick, when cooking Brasato al Barolo, was to insert a long carving knife all the way through the middle of the joint of beef. Into this slot, he'd push a carrot or two and possibly a leg of celery. The vegetables not only flavour the meat from inside, but the slot also allows the wine marinade to penetrate more fully. When you serve the beef, the vegetables are in the middle of each slice.

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