Spezzatino di manzo ai funghi porcini

While I'm pretty confident in my culinary skills by now, every so often I come across a recipe that, despite my best efforts and intentions, just doesn't come together like I'd imagined it would. The cooking time is off, the dish is bland no matter how much spice is added, or the end result is a bit blah, falls a bit short, that kind of thing. Usually when this becomes clear, I mentally adjust the blog line up for the month, calculating one recipe less, shrug my shoulders, and realize the meaning of the statement "you can't win 'em all."  

Spezzatino is a dish made with meat, usually beef or veal, cooked with wine, broth, and sometimes vegetables. The name comes from the verb "spezzare" which means to break up, referring to the fact that the meat is cut in small pieces, and is Italy's version of beef stew. I'll be honest -- this spezzatino di manzo ai funghi porcini and I got off to a rocky start. I feared I'd chosen the wrong cut of meat, as the beef seemed far too tough even after some cooking, not at all the braised beef I'd imagined; my eyes had a particularly bad reaction to the onion I'd been chopping and were streaming, making dicing the other ingredients nearly impossible; the probably 40-something year old corkscrew we had inherited when we moved into our ancient apartment broke in two pieces when I tried to open the bottle of red wine, a key ingredient; I realized I had misplaced the cover for the pot that I was cooking the dish in and thus couldn't cover it as it simmered. "Everything okay in there?" my sister asked, more than once. "IT'S FINE!" I responded "BUT MAYBE FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO EAT FOR LUNCH!"

But I had a bottle of white wine already open the fridge that I substituted for the red wine whose cork I couldn't remove; my eyes eventually stopped watering; I covered the pan with aluminum foil to stand in for my missing pot cover. And the beef! The meat cooked down the longer it cooked in the wine and beef broth -- turns out it just needed a little patience -- and became fork tender. The dish came out beautifully in the end, braised beef with lots of sweet carrots and onions and earthy mushrooms and cozy herbs, the very definition of comfort food. I feel like there's a life lesson in here about things always working themselves out in the end/patience as a virtue but I won't go all philosophical on you. I'll just say this dish was just what I wanted on a cold Fall day. It made the house smell amazing. It was made even better served over a pool of sunshine-y golden polenta with a little Parmesan stirred in. Need I go on?

A couple of notes: If you don't have porcini mushrooms, feel free to use regular button mushrooms or any other kind if that's what you have on hand (no soaking needed in that case). Fresh porcini mushrooms would be nice here too. I served this over polenta, but if you prefer you can always serve it over mashed potatoes which would be an American sort of twist, or serve with bread for soaking up all the sauce here. If you want, you could also add two or so peeled, diced potatoes to the dish in the last half an hour and let them cook with the rest of the meat and veggies. Feel free to double this recipe if you're serving a bigger crowd. Finally, if you don't want bits of rosemary floating around in your spezzatino, wrap them up in a piece of cheesecloth to get all the rosemary flavor with none of the leaves.

Looking for more Italian secondi recipes? I've got these cotolette di pollo, this parmigiana di melanzane, this pollo alla cacciatora in bianco, this polpettone al forno, these polpette al sugo, and this saltimbocca alla romana. If you want more recipes with mushrooms, I've got this polenta con funghi and these pappardelle con zucca e funghi porcini.


1 1/4 pounds (570 grams) beef chuck shoulder, cut into smallish pieces (if you're in Italy, you can buy bocconcini di manzo or ask for manzo for spezzatino especially at your butcher)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped roughly
1 celery stick, chopped roughly
1 small onion, chopped roughly
1/2 ounce (15 grams) dried porcini mushrooms
1 1/4 cups (150 grams) red or white wine
2 1/3 cups (310ml) beef broth
1 branch of rosemary
2 sage leaves
2 bay leaves
Flour, as needed
Polenta for serving, if desired -- I used this recipe here, using water as the liquid and adding about 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese at the end.

Start with your porcini mushrooms. Place the mushrooms in a small bowl and fill the bowl with enough hot water to cover. Set the mushrooms aside.
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large frying pan with high sides over medium-low heat. Add the carrots, onions, and celery and let the vegetables start to cook. In the meantime, drain the now softened porcini mushrooms, reserving 3 or so tablespoons of the mushroom-y liquid it leaves behind. Pat the mushrooms dry, chop them roughly, and add them and the reserved liquid to the pan with the other veggies that have already started to soften. Season everything with salt and pepper and cook a few minutes more.
 Toss the pieces of beef in a little flour and add to the pan. Cook the beef with the veggies until browned on all sides. Season a bit with salt and pepper. Next, add the wine to the pan and let it cook down, about 7 or so minutes.
Next, add the broth to the pan along with the herbs. Lower the heat on the pan and cover the pan. Let the spezzatino cook for about 1 hour and 10-15 minutes, or until the broth has cooked down and the meat, which was probably quite chewy before, is nice and tender. If you want to make polenta, you can do this while the spezzatino is cooking.
Serve the spezzatino hot over polenta, mashed potatoes, or as is, with some bread to soak up all the sauce. Serves 3, but we ate this all just two of us.


  1. Beautiful recipe Francesca! I love a good spezzatino, especially when it's served on top of polenta.