serves: 6 srevings
Sugo is a word that means "juice," or sometimes "sauce," but here it tells only part of the story. Sugo alla Genovese is a traditional braised-meat dish that gives you a big pot filled with both a tender, succulent beef roast and a rich, meaty tomato sauce. Like my other favorite braises (such as the Braised Leg of Lamb), it yields a bounty of sauce, enough to dress pasta as a first course and to serve as gravy on the sliced meat for a main course. What makes this sugo distinctively alla Genovese is an unusual step in the procedure. After you have caramelized the aromatic vegetables and herbs and browned the meat, you begin building the sauce with red wine. Then you set the meat aside and purée the seasonings with pine nuts to create a complex thickened base for the sauce, reminiscent of pesto alla Genovese. This then goes back in the pan, and everything cooks together slowly for hours, resulting in a sugo that is absolutely delicious and certainly unique.
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 pound boneless beef shoulder, (preferably a top blade roast)
2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
2 cups onions, chopped
¼ ounce dried porcini mushrooms, ( about 1/4 cup loosely packed pieces)
8 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, stripped from the stern
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups dry red wine
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
6 cups canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
Grana Padano, or Parmigiano-Reggiano for the table
Pour the olive oil into the saucepan pan, set it over medium-high heat, toss in the garlic cloves, and, as they start to sizzle, stir in the onions. Heat the onions to sizzling, stirring occasionally, then scatter the porcini, sage, and rosemary in the pan, season with 1 teaspoon of salt, and cook until the onions soften and begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, trim the beef of fat, and sprinkle all over with salt, using another teaspoon in all. Spread the flour on a plate, and dredge the roast thoroughly, coating all surfaces, then shake off any excess. When the onions are wilted, push the sautéed seasoning to one side of the pan, drop the butter in the clear pan bottom, and, when it has melted, lay in the roast. Brown it well, turning it every few minutes to sear another surface, until it is nicely colored all over, 10 minutes or so.
Pour the red wine into the pan, stir the seasonings all around the beef, and let the wine come to a vigorous boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half, then turn off the heat. Remove the meat to a tray or platter. Transfer the cooked onions, seasonings, and reduced wine, scraping up all the juices, to the bowl of a food processor. Add the pine nuts and process for a minute or more, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until everything is puréed into a smooth, thick sauce base.
Scrape the base back into the saucepan; slosh out the food-processor bowl with some hot stock, and stir that in, along with the remaining teaspoon salt. Heat the pan over medium heat, stir in the tomatoes, slosh out the tomato containers with the rest of the hot stock, and stir that in, too. When the liquids are well mixed, lay the meat back in the pan, along with any meat juices. If necessary, add more stock so that the roast is nearly totally submerged in sauce.
Still over moderate heat, bring the sauce to a slow boil, then cover the pan tightly and lower the heat, checking after a few minutes to see that the sauce is just at a slow, gently bubbling simmer. Cook the beef, fully covered, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, occasionally stirring the sauce to make sure that the pine nuts are not collecting on the bottom of the pan, and that the level of the sauce is barely reducing. Rotate the roast once or twice in the liquid, so all surfaces cook covered by sauce for some of the time.
When the meat is tender enough that a kitchen fork pierces it easily and pulls out with no resistance, turn off the heat. With sturdy tongs or spatulas, lift the beef from the pan and set it on a platter in a warm place. Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce, then bring it back to a boil and cook until reduced by about half, stirring occasionally. You should have 3 to 4 cups of fairly thick sauce.
To serve the beef: Slice it crosswise into 1/3-inch thick slices, and arrange them, fanned out or overlapping, on a warm platter. Moisten the slices with spoonfuls of hot sauce, and pass more sauce at the table. If you have cooked the beef several hours or the day before serving, you can let the meat cool in the pan, in the full amount of braising sauce. Shortly before serving, remove the meat, then skim and reduce the sauce. Slice the beef while it is cool (it is easier this way), and reheat the slices slowly in a wide skillet with some of the hot, thickened sauce.
To serve a primo with sugo alla Genovese: Put 2 cups of sauce (for a pound of pasta) into a big skillet, and heat to a simmer while the pasta cooks. Drop the drained al dente pasta into the sauce, and toss until coated, then shut off the heat, and toss with grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve immediately in warm bowls.