Save the Daube

Daube is one of the great winter meals in New Orleans, though it sits high on the list of endangered or lost dishes – those rarely cooked by the young folks or fading from the menus of neighborhood restaurants. Yet it remains a wonderful example of how French and Italian cooking merge in this food mecca, be it in restaurants or at home. In its classic French form, daube (pronounced dohb) is a beef roast that is larded or stuffed with salt pork slivers and cooked in broth and wine until tender. But the home-style, what’s-for-dinner daube can be as simple as a beef roast cooked in red gravy until falling apart and served with spaghetti. What a way to feed a family! Daube becomes daube glace with the addition of gelatin. This is classy party fare when sliced thin and served with crackers, a hoity-toity cousin to hogshead cheese. On two trips to Sicily last year to visit a daughter who was living there, I was never so aware of this Italian island’s hold on the lifestyle of New Orleans. Towns and streets named Messina, Lentini, Ragusa, Sclafani. Markets selling cucuzzas, cardoons and fava beans. Breaded veal and red gravies on menus. No surprise, considering that south Louisiana’s huge Italian population descended almost exclusively from Sicilians drawn to a crop-friendly climate and an abundance of seafood. New Orleans and its surrounding areas provided the fodder for farms, groceries and restaurants, allowing immigrants to support themselves and start businesses, a far cry from the lack of opportunity in big-city ghettos, where many others landed. Here, their industrious pursuit of the land and its produce gave the Italians long-lasting influence, particularly in the area of food-related businesses as well as home cooking. To this day, most neighborhood restaurants in Greater New Orleans specialize in Italian and seafood dishes. For daube, also called beef daube and Italian daube, the marriage of French and Italian begins with the French style of braising beef with red wine, vegetables and herbs. And this is where you stop if daube glace is your final goal, adding gelatin and chilling it for the exquisite buffet. The Italian forces come in with the red gravy, known elsewhere as spaghetti sauce, with or without a roux base, and pasta. Some recipes call for cooking the daube in wine and stock and preparing the red gravy separately. For simplicity in today’s rushed lifestyle, it is mandatory for most cooks to put it all together in one big pot. A good name for the resulting hearty dish is simply Creole daube. While red sauces command a prominent position in southern Italian cooking, they were at one time put on the back burner by restaurants touting northern Italian cuisine, which included white or butter sauces. Regions north, such as Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, were known as the epicenter for gourmet cooking and for the production of balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, olive oil and artisan breads. In truth, fresh and light fare is everywhere in Italy, with sauces (sometimes uncooked) made from fresh vegetables and herbs. Any tomato sauce, including that for beef daube, can be made with fresh tomatoes – best when in season. Tomatoes should be used when red-ripe. Various cuts of beef suit daube, including the rump, round, shoulder or chuck. Instead of larding, a no-no in contemporary cooking, a stuffing of garlic proves equally flavorful. Old Creole recipes used lard for the braising, too, but olive oil substitutes healthfully and tastefully. Don’t be offput by the long slow-cooking process. The dish can simmer on the stove with little attention while you catch up on rest and relaxation. Creole Daube 1 3-pound rump roast 5 cloves garlic, 2 slivered and 3 minced Salt Pepper Creole seasoning 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, chopped 1 bell pepper, chopped 2 ribs celery, chopped 1 6-ounce can tomato paste 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce 1 cup red wine 1 14-ounce can beef broth 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne to taste Pinch of sugar 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley With a sharp knife or ice pick, punch holes in the roast about 2 inches apart and stuff with slivers of garlic. Rub roast generously with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning. Heat oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven and brown roast well on all sides over medium-high heat. When browned, take roast out of pot and set aside. In the same oil, sauté onion, bell pepper and celery over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add minced garlic and cook for 5 more minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it almost begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add tomato sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 more minutes. Add wine, beef broth, Italian seasoning, cayenne, salt if needed and sugar and stir well. Return roast to pot, fat side up, turn fire to low, cover and simmer for 4 hours or until roast is very tender. Stir well every hour and turn roast over halfway through cooking. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with spaghetti. Serves 6. Shortcut: Instead of making the red gravy, you can substitute your favorite spaghetti sauce. In this case, leave out the tomato paste, tomato sauce, onion, bell pepper, celery and minced garlic, and add a 26-ounce jar of prepared sauce when you add the wine and broth. Prepared sauce may be slightly thinner and can be reduced by uncovering the pot for the last half hour of cooking. •

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