Winter is well and truly here. I know this because of three things. I know it because I finally relented and hauled my down duvet out the cupboard. I also know it because my cat is WAY friendlier than normal. As in I will sleep on top of you all night long and make you seriously uncomfortable in my search of body heat. Felines – they get away with blind blue murder. As least they do in my house.
And finally I know it’s winter because I start going into slow food mode. I want cling-to-your-ribs stuff. And I want carbs. Just cannot get enough of them. There, I said it. This recipe combines both those things. There are so many parts of a cow that do not get the attention they deserve – the tougher hardworking bits of them, which are much cheaper than the plush cuts. But treat them correctly and they deliver big time. Brisket and shin immediately come to mind. But when last did you think of beef neck?
Well how about now – as in beef neck and beef marrow ragu for pasta. The neck is seriously beefy and the addition of a marrowbone makes it mouthwateringly, juicily rich. Tomato and red wine lend a bit of acidic balance, while garlic, rosemary and bay give me all the aromatics I want. All it asks for is pasta, a very generous grating of good parmesan and a glass of decent red wine to wash it all down. Ah winter, you’re not all bad.
All you need is…
1kg beef neck
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, finely chopped
3 tbs tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 cups water
1 tbs sugar
2 beef stock cubes (I used standard good old Knorrox)
1 whole dried red chilli
2 bay leaves
1 small sprig rosemary
olive oil, for frying
chopped parsley and parmesan or pecorino, for serving
Brown the beef neck and marrowbone in a generous glug of olive oil, remove and set aside. Add the onions, celery and carrots to the same pan with another glug of olive oil if need be and fry for a few minutes. (Cook’s tip #1: You could painstakingly chop the onion, celery and carrots by hand. I just ‘sommer’ plonk the lot in my food processor and get the chopping out the way in 30 seconds.)
Add the garlic and tomato paste and fry for a further minute then add the red wine. Boil it for a minute then add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and place the saucepan on your smallest plate on its lowest heat setting and let it gently bubble away for a good 2+ hours until the neck is incredibly soft and the marrow has disappeared into the sauce. If your heat setting is low enough, there should be sufficient liquid. But do check it from time to time and add a dash of water if it’s cooking too dry. (Cook’s tip #2: You could also use your slow cooker for this, or pop it in a 150 degree Celsius oven instead of cooking it on the hob.)
Once done, remove the rosemary sprig and chilli and use two forks to flake the meat. Taste and adjust salt if need be. Serve with pasta of your choice or even gnocchi, scattered with chopped parsley and lashings of freshly grated parmesan cheese.