As we are all embracing gold weather, I cannot think of a better dish than this braised beef recipe. It’s got it all: hearty beef sauce, seasoned with a special spice mix served over pasta. This Greek traditional 18th-century recipe called “Pastitsada” comes right from the island of Corfu. Tender beef slowly simmered in red wine Greek-style sauce. It doesn’t contain tomato but another ingredient which I won’t reveal yet-evil grin-). It’s a simple Sunday-family-get-together meal that smells incredible and it tastes even better. Serve over hot bucatini pasta with freshly grated parmesan or Greek kefalotiri. Place on a big platter right in the middle of the Sunday table and enjoy an over two-century-old dish with family and friends.
PASTITSADA: A RECIPE WITH HISTORY
You are here only for the recipe? No problem. Jump to Recipe. The rest of you find out the origins of this delicious dish.
Corfu (Κέρκυρα = Kerkira in Greek) is a beautiful island located in northwestern Greece, with Albania to the north and Italy across the Adriatic Sea. The proximity to Italy influenced greatly the local culture mostly because the island was a possession of the Republic of Venice from the mid-14th century until the late 18th century. The influence in cuisine is more than obvious in every aspect: ingredients, cooking techniques, and Italian-sounding names.
It is believed that pastitsada comes from a traditional Venetian dish called “pastissada or pastizzada de caval” which is basically a horse meat stew (Back then, I guess facing famine, any meat can be food. Let’s not judge with the standards of our time of prosperity).
In Corfu, pastitsada is made with beef or rooster. Keep in mind that it is a really old recipe, in a time when tomato was considered exotic and mostly poisonous at least until the mid-19th century. The first pasta recipe with tomato was documented in Italy in 1839 and I suppose it took a while until tomatoes took hold as an important ingredient in Greek homes.
As a consequence and in respect of the recipe’s history there will be no tomato on our plates but another ingredient. I am still not going to reveal it (evil grin – twice!).
THE RECIPE AND ITS SECRETS
To begin with, I tasted this amazing dish at a friend’s dinner. She is an excellent cook and her family’s origin comes from Corfu. She made pastitsada with rooster and I really loved the meat sauce and the spice mix. It was absolutely perfect. I complimented her on the dish and she told me about its history. I was especially intrigued when she told me that the old version doesn’t contain tomato but the sauce remains thick, rich, and equally, if not, more flavorful. Challenge accepted! I would dare to replicate a recipe much older than the 18th century. So glad I did it! Another delicious Mediterranean recipe on family’s rotation.
THE MEAT: BEEF, ROOSTER OR CHICKEN?
It is up to you. It’s delicious with every kind of meat. My kids prefer beef, hubby prefers rooster and I am like Switzerland so I make all versions to satisfy both sides. What can I say? I was born to please 🙂
Just a reminder that the best cut for this beef recipe is chuck. It’s a cheap cut, with excellent flavor and the appropriate fat to make it a very appealing choice for a hearty meat dish. Please don’t choose a lean cut. It would be delicious because of the tasteful sauce but the meat won’t be tender and it’s going to be a complete waste of time and money.
OK, NO TOMATO IN THE MEAT SAUCE! THEN, WHAT?
Old-time favored, cannot-live-without onion! Brilliant cooking with basic ingredients, guys! Give it a try! Create the first sweet layer and give body to your meat sauce with the simplest of ingredients.
When I am saying add onion, I mean a lot of onion, like “no way to add that much in a dish” and then you add some more of it!
THE BIGGEST TIP: THE SPICE MIX
Now, I hear you saying: “This recipe sounds too basic to my liking!”. Well, I know my audience. You like bold, full-flavored dishes with healthy real-food ingredients. Mediterranean cooking spoils our taste buds and makes us search for better, bolder, tastier recipes to exceed the last perfect dish. In all sincerity, it’s exhausting but it’s totally worth the trouble.
That being said, this recipe stands out from the other meat sauce dishes because of its spice mix. In Corfu, it is called “spetseriko” (from the Italian word “spezia” meaning spice) and every household has its own spice mix for this recipe which is like a family secret kept well-sealed and it passes down to the new generations. Alternatively, even today, you may find this special blend of seasoning in grocery stores on the island. Convenient, right? Nevertheless, there is a small problem. You have to travel to Corfu or at least to Greece to get it. I couldn’t find it online for overseas delivery. But…
As always, I have you covered…again. I am super excited to post the spice mix for your braised beef with pasta. I’ve tested the recipe twice and finally adjusted the spice mix to my clan’s taste: it is as spicy as it can be to serve to children and other picky eaters. Neither of the 6 ingredients stands out and it is very important because there are people who cannot stand cinnamon or cloves in their food. I strongly suggest giving it a try and using it in other dishes with meat like moussaka, stuffed eggplants, and definitely add it to your bolognese sauce. It makes a huge difference for a really special dish.
So, here it is. My spice mix contains the following ingredients:
ANOTHER INGREDIENT TO BOOST FLAVOR
The majority of braised meat sauces use broth or water. Not this one. You are going to braise the beef with a generous amount of dry red wine and vinegar instead. Don’t be afraid to serve it to children because alcohol has plenty of time (over 1 1/2 hours) to cook off. The vinegar contains minimal traces of alcohol so it is safe as well.
THE PASTA: BUCATINI
Hard to miss this unique pasta. It’s the one with the big hole and the Italians call it “bucatini”. The trademark hole is the reason that it pairs so well with hearty sauces, especially meat sauces.
Even though the traditional pastitsada calls for bucatini, you may serve it over your favorite one. Of course, you can serve it with any kind of grain like rice, bulgur, buckwheat, barley, quinoa etc.
PASTITSADA: HOW TO MAKE IT
For the most tender cut of beef, follow my method and you won’t regret it.
Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and sear the beef in batches on both sides.
Add the onions until translucent and then the garlic and all the spices. Deglaze your pot with a splash of wine and scrape up with a wooden spoon. Add the beef back into the pot and then pour in the wine and vinegar.
Cover with the lid and simmer on medium-low heat for 1 hour. Uncover and season with salt and pepper to taste. Don’t add too much pepper because it is already kind of spicy. Simmer a little more until the meat is tender. Ready!
MAKE AHEAD AND STORAGE?
So glad you ask because you’re gonna love the answer. This braised beef recipe is a perfect make-ahead meal and it freezes so well.
Doubling or even tripling the recipe doesn’t take that much effort. Keep it fresh in an airtight food container in the fridge for up to 2-3days. I usually store the meal in the pot to save time and trouble. Yes, I hate making the dishes that much. 15 minutes before serving, while you make the pasta, heat it up on low heat and stir gently. Done!
Then, you know that Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner. Before freaking out, just plan ahead and freeze this excellent meal for up to 2-3 months. When you’re ready to serve it, thaw it overnight in the fridge and serve!
MY BRAISED BEEF PASTA IS READY! NOW, WHAT?
Another extremely important part of the recipe is sharing it with friends and family. It is an excellent dish for big get-togethers and special occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving, or just a weeknight meal.
10 minutes before serving make the pasta, set it on a big platter, and top it with the meat. When everyone is set on the table, place the platter in the middle. Oh my! Lots of “wows” and “AAAA” all over the table! Allow yourself to brag because you deserve it! It is such an impressive meal. It is even tastier when you share it with your beloved ones.
Don’t forget the cheese. It goes so well with the meat-pasta meal. Parmesan or Greek Kefalotyri or your favorite cheese for pasta, freshly grated over the plates, skipping those who don’t want any. The above Sunday or festive get-together meal would be epic along with homemade bread or/and pita bread, spicy feta dip, a traditional cabbage salad, a spinach pie, and with lots of wine! Preferably red, like Agiorgitiko, an excellent Greek wine to pair with meat.
If you make this recipe, you have to let me know! I absolutely love your feedback. This is a huge motivation for me and it keeps 30daysofgreekfood’s kitchen alive. Bookmark this recipe and leave your rate and comment below, or take a photo with your Braised Beef Recipe and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood and Facebook with @30daysofgreekfood.
Braised Beef Recipe - Greek Pastitsada
- 2 pounds (1kg) boneless beef, preferably chuck, cut into pieces
- 1 pound (500g) bucatini pasta
- ½ cup (120ml) olive oil
- 2 big onions, finely chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves, grated
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups (500ml) dry red wine
- ½ cup (120ml) red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
The Spice Mix
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground hot paprika
- 5 whole cloves
For serving (optional)
- Grated parmesan or Greek Kefalotiri
- Parsley or basil
- Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and sear the beef in batches on both sides. Don’t overcrowd the pot. Set aside in a plate or bowl.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the onions until translucent about 5-8 minutes. Stir well. Add the garlic and all the spices, and sugar (optional) for another 2 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary.
- Deglaze your pot with a splash of wine and scrape up with a wooden spoon. Stir the beef back into the pot and pour in the wine and vinegar.
- Give everything a stir and bring the sauce up to a boil. Add the bay leaves. Cover with the lid and simmer on medium-low heat for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. If it thickens before the beef is ready, add some water.
- Uncover and season with salt and pepper to taste. Don’t add too much pepper because it is already spicy. Simmer for about half an hour or until the meat is tender. Remove the bay leaves and the cloves. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Serve pasta on a big platter or on individual plates and top with the beef and plenty of grated cheese. You may add parsley or basil (optional).