Bruscitt con polenta

Chopped Meat Sauce for Polenta

When I first read a recipe for this Lombardian sauce, I wondered about it. Would the fennel flavor penetrate the meat? What holds the sauce together? When I cooked it, I discovered that it is more of a stew than a sauce, with tiny pieces of meat that become tender, but do not break down. The fennel truly does perfume the meat, and the additional butter rounds out the pan juices.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, plus more for serving
  • pounds boneless beef brisket or chuck, cut into pieces ⅓ to ½ inch square
  • 6 pancetta slices, chopped or diced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 20 fennel seeds, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
  • A few juniper berries, crushed (optional)
  • 2 cups dry red wine, or as needed

For Serving

  • 2 cups polenta, cooked in salted water with 2 cloves garlic, smashed (see Basic Polenta)
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Method

In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the beef and pancetta and sauté until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the sachet of fennel seeds, the juniper berries (if using), and ½ cup of the wine. Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, adding more wine every half hour or so as needed to keep the meat moist. At this point, the sauce should be dense and aromatic. Discard the sachet and season with salt and pepper.

Stir the remaining 4 tablespoons butter into the sauce. Ladle the sauce atop soft polenta in warmed individual bowls, top with more butter and some Parmesan, and serve.

Wine

The best choice is a wine from the Valtellina, such as a Nebbiolo DOC from Rainoldi or Negri. In its absence, stay with the grape and pour a Ghemme or Gattinara from the Piedmont. Dessilani and Nervi are reliable producers.