Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beef Short Ribs and Community Supported Agriculture

Beef Short Ribs

When we lived in Italy, I had a great relationship with my local butchers.  I loved the individual attention, the sense of community in their shops and I always looked forward to visiting them for a chat. Their meats were tender and flavorful, yet I was continually curious about the origin of the meat I was buying. Despite my probing questions, it appeared impossible to get accurate information on how the meat was raised and butchered.  I imagined animals roaming the idyllic Umbrian countryside, but my fairytale still left me in the dark about the Italian meat industry.  My organic grocer sold "organically raised" meat, so I knew there was some difference between that and my butcher shop purchases.  Since no one could really answer my questions, I balanced my purchases between the butcher and the organic grocer and hoped I was avoiding hormones and antibiotics.


Back in the States I certainly miss the colorful interactions with merchants in Rome.  Although I try to engage people at my local grocery store, no one has warmed up to me the way the Italians did.  So recently I've been supporting local farmers at my local Green Market who are much more open to conversation.  This winter I also joined a collective of small family ranches that offers a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share called 8 O'Clock Ranch.  They provide organically raised beef and lamb, as well as pastured pork and chicken. It's delicious and convenient and has the added benefit of supporting local, sustainable family businesses.

Part of the fun of a CSA share is using cuts of meat I don't normally make at home, like these beef short ribs.  I prepared them for the first meal of 2012,  using a recipe reminiscent of the hearty wild boar or ox tail I used to make in Rome.  It takes time to build community, but I'm on my way-- one sustainable purchase at a time.

Beef Short Ribs over Polenta

Slow-cook Beef Short Ribs with Polenta

Serves 4 

This makes a wonderful, hearty winter meal.  I made it a day before serving it, which was helpful because this cut of meat is rich in fat, and refrigerating it overnight made it easy to skim off 3/4 of the fat that separated, making for a less greasy sauce.  You can easily double the recipe.  If you have extra sauce once the meat has been eaten, simmer it down in a pot and serve with pasta. I have learned from experience to eat a rich meal like this for a weekend lunch instead of dinner, allowing more time for digestion. 

Olive oil
4 lbs beef short ribs (about 4 ribs)
1 onion
1 celery stalk
2 medium carrots
3 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup red wine
5 cups beef stock
leaves from a sprig of fresh thyme
a small handful of parsley
fresh chives 

Coat the bottom of a dutch oven or soup pot with olive oil and heat the pan to medium high heat.  Season the beef with salt and pepper.  Working in batches if needed, sear the meat for a few minutes on both sides until brown.  Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. 

Process the onion, celery, carrots and garlic in a food processor to a fine dice. 
Adding additional olive oil if necessary, sauté the vegetables in the dutch oven until transparent, about 5 minutes.  
Add the bay leaf, tomato paste, red wine, beef stock and thyme leaves.
Return the beef to the pot and cover. Simmer over medium or medium-low heat for 2 hours. 
**You can cool the dish and refrigerate overnight if you wish (skim most of the separated fat off once cooled) or serve immediately.  Remove the bay leaf and sprinkle with fresh parsley and chives before serving.  It's wonderful served with polenta.

Basic Polenta recipe
serves 4-6

6 cups water or broth
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups polenta (I like Bob's Red Mill)
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Boil the water and salt in a heavy bottomed pot.  Add the polenta gradually and stir often while the polenta boils (this may take 20-30 minutes).  When all the water has been absorbed, stir in some butter and parmesan cheese.  Serve hot.


  1. I agree, it is always difficult to get a straight answer in Italy when you ask about the origin of what you are eating. Maybe it isn't a part of the culture here yet and also a lot of what you get outside the cities is still locally sourced. But unfortunately both you and I have experienced large cities here. The good news is there are not big issues about antibiotics in meat and milk, and buying the basic milk from the local Centrale del Latte is safe. With 2 kids in NY I always spend a fortune on organic milk whenever I visit. I tried to become a part of a CSA here but there are not that many and the logistics are still a little complicated but I love the idea of getting vegetables and cuts of meat that take me out of my comfort zone and force me to be creative. Hang in there, it may take a little but I am sure you will build up a great community.

  2. It seems you are starting the year off right. This dish looks like a wonderful winter meal, one to dip into after a long walk in the snow. I made short ribs for the first time last February, for my husband's birthday, and they were tasty. Cheers to you and your community building.

  3. Happy New Year, Nicole!
    I know that in the US there are a lot of issues with meat being pumped up with antibiotics, but that is not the case in Europe.
    What a great dish. I have never tried beef short ribs before but I bet I'm going to like this dish, especially with the polenta!

  4. A warm and inviting dish that I would love to have waiting for me on a cold day.

  5. there's nothing quite like the deep rich flavor of beef short ribs--you're right--much better served for lunch than dinner.
    best wishes to you this new year, and may your community continue to grow.

  6. Those short ribs sure look good!

    I have been looking at CSA for a while now, but haven't made the jump yet. Maybe this year will be the right one!

  7. Nicole: cheers to a new year of community, family and bread-breaking around the table. Comfort at its best. (i have been mia, while travelling in Italia, over the holidays, hence my radio silence... so glad to come back to this wonderful space, that is your blog, one of my faves!)

  8. We love our meat CSA from Vermont. It really does stretch you as a cook because you don't get to pick what's in your box. But it's frozen, so there's not the same pressure as a vegetable CSA. I have yet to get short ribs--but I have gotten pork cube steak several times, and I had no clue what it was.


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