This full-bodied Unique Italian Beef Cannellini Stew with Polenta is rich, hearty, and the delicious. Two secret ingredients will add to the flavor complexity and leave your taste buds jumping for joy.
In my opinion, beef stew is generally… meh, Beef Stew. It’s good, but I’ve had very few truly remarkable ones. I’m biased, but this Unique Italian Beef Cannellini Stew with Polenta is a stew to remember. Rich, bold flavors of beef are offset with the acidity of tomatoes, mildness of the cannellini beans, and a brightness from the bouquet of anise seed (secret ingredient #1). It’s classic, yet, it has a uniqueness I think you will love.
Complementing this stew is a firm, yet delicate polenta. The texture gives you a bit of sustenance, while the parmesan and salt act as flavor catalysts. All together with a bit of dark green foliage (sautéed collard greens or kale) and you’re off to the races!
Here’s The Beef
I quite often use chuck roasts or general “stew meat” for braising or stewing, but I classed it up for this recipe using top sirloin. Top sirloin makes for a great stew: it’s tender, not overly fatty, and can be properly cut to size. Not being able pass up a good deal (runs in the family…), I found at my local Kroger some beautiful top sirloin on close out which is why I used it for this recipe.
But seriously, Monday mornings are a key to finding good deals at my grocery stores’ meat departments. If you plan to use the meat within the next two to three days or freeze it, it’s too good to pass up. Today, being Monday, they had beautiful beef tenderloin steaks marked down to $4.50/lb. If only I had the extra freezer space.
The Green Team
Call me nuts, but I absolutely love collard greens and kale. They’re big, tasty, healthy, easy to cook, and can go with just about anything. My favorite way to cook collards is to lightly sauté them. I roll the leaves tight, as a cigar roller might, and thinly slice the giant leaves into slivered strips. Saute some fresh crushed garlic, olive oil, salt, and toss in the greens just until the turn that beautiful, bright, shiny green. Squeeze in some fresh lemon and I promise it’ll change your mind about these prehistoric looking leaves.
Tomatoes For This Unique Italian Beef Cannellini Stew with Polenta and Just About Everything Else
You know how you go to the grocery store and buy a tempting perfectly red, perfectly round tomato just to have it be flavorless and grainy? Well, it’s not just your bad luck. Your average grocery store tomato has been selectively bred to be fast growing, uniform, and “attractive.” In turn, the trade off for that perfection flavor and texture has been affected. If you’re using fresh tomatoes and you don’t grow your own, it’s worth it to spend a little extra money on organic or heirloom tomatoes. They’re pretty in their own right and tend to burst with flavor.
Did you say cheese rind? (Secret ingredient #1)
Yes, the parmesan cheese rind will very slowly break up into your soup. It adds an umami depth of flavor that brings the stew to another level. It’s not a typical cheesy flavor, it’s nuttier and almost pleasantly bitter. If you’re not about it, feel free to skip the rind.
Tips and Tricks
- I recommend making polenta, I think you’re going to appreciate a homemade polenta more than store bought, but, when in a pinch, you can buy pre-made polenta (usually from the “International” aisle), such as this: San Gennaro Traditional Polenta.
- In terms of actual cornmeal for polenta, I usually use any medium or coarse ground yellow corn. Bob’s Red Mill makes a great one, but there are cheaper options. They are not all certified gluten free, so make sure to check the label.
- You can make the polenta up to three days in advance and leave it covered in the fridge. I like individual portions, but you can also use a casserole dish and cut it into squares before serving.
- The collard greens or kale are very simple and best fresh. I prefer making those the day of, but you can make those a day or two in advance.
- To get very thin slivers of the aforementioned greens, stack your full leaves on top of each other, then tightly roll them as you would a sleeping bag or yoga mat. This gives you a nicely confined and dense area for slicing.
- Canned tomatoes are a great alternative to fresh, especially when they are not in season. I recommend these from Colavita: Diced Tomatoes. They also make an organic version, but I haven’t tried them.
- Save your parmesan rinds!!! They are like a secret ingredient to add rich flavors to soups and stews.
- When short on time, you can also brown the meat in the Instapot, then add all other ingredients in (except the beans) for 25-30min on medium pressure, let it release, then add the beans in before serving – that should give you enough time to cook some polenta and greens!