The recipe comes from a lady called Rubina (Ruby). She was an old family acquaintance and lived in a house with echoing acoustics and a garden full of roses. She was from Zante and spent her married life in Athens. Her family was the best-off in the street and she was respected by the neighbours because of her charities during the war.
She passed this recipe to my grandmother who passed it to my mother and found its place in the Sunday lunch repertoire when I was a kid. It still is cooked when we visit the grandparents in their house with a garden full of hydrangeas and jasmines.
For the Zante Beef
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1,5kg good-quality stewing beef, cut into 3cm cubes
- 150ml mavrodaphne, a sweet dark red wine from Patras
- 75ml red wine vinegar
- 3 allspice berries
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 800g very ripe fresh tomatoes (or canned if not in season), peeled
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1/2kg pecorino cheese, cut into 2cm cubes
Heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the beef (in batches if needed, so that the temperature of the oil remains high) and sauté until browned on all sides. Add the garlic and stir constantly for 1 minute.
Pour in the mavrodaphne wine and the vinegar and reduce the heat to low- medium and let simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.( We usually don’t add any water, but you might need to add 1 cup or less of warm water.)
In a mini food processor blend the tomatoes with the sugar. Add the tomatoes, the allspice berries, the peppercorns, the cinnamon stick and the remaining olive oil into the saucepan with the beef. Bring to a boil and then let simmer covered for about 1 hour or until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened.
Add the cheese and let simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the cheese, you don’t want it melted.
Take out the cinnamon stick (and the allspice berries-if you can find them!) and serve immediately over rice or triple cooked french fries!