When I lived in New York City, one of my favorite dining spots was Brunetta's, a small, family-run Italian cafe in the East Village. Frank Brunetta cooked up simple, home-style, rustic Italian fare and his wife usually waited on the handful of tables in the restaurant. Cheap wine was served in cheap water glasses, and it was terrific. Sadly, Brunetta's no longer exists.
A dish I could never get enough of at Brunetta's was veal stew. In Italy, it's often called Butcher's Stew (ragu del macellaio) and it can be made with just veal or with a combination of meats, such as boneless cubes of lamb, beef, pork and/or veal. I like it best using just veal, but boneless pork also works quite well and is more economical.
It takes about 2 hours to cook, so plan accordingly.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
12 oz. boneless stew meat (veal, preferably), cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup drained, diced canned tomatoes (Italian-style Romas are best)
1 1/2 cup chicken stock or water
2-3 small white or yellow potatoes, pealed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
minced parsley for garnish
In a large, deep skillet or casserole, heat the olive oil and saute the sliced onion over medium heat until the onion softens, about three minutes.
Add the meat and brown lightly, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper. Stir.
Pour in the chicken broth or water until it just barely covers the meat. Cook at a simmer, uncovered, for approximately 90 minutes. If the stew gets too dry, add a little more water or chicken stock.
Add the potatoes to the pan and cook until fork-tender, but not mushy -- about 15-20 minutes.
To finish, add the peas and the parsley and cook for an additional two minutes or so, just to heat the peas through. Taste for salt and pepper; adjust, if necessary.
If the stew is a bit thin, add a 50/50 water/cornstarch paste to thicken it.
Serve with rice or pasta on the side. The stew is pictured here with buttered farfalle. Gnocchi is also a great accompaniment.