Notes: John Ash, culinary director of Bonterra and Fetzer Vineyards, adds a generous quantity of garlic and cracked pepper to this beef stew. The gremolata adds a fresh finish of lemon and garlic. Start the polenta about 30 minutes before stew is done. The stew can be prepared through step 2 up to 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and chill. Reheat over medium-high heat, covered, stirring occasionally.
4 pounds fat-trimmed boned beef chuck or other cut suitable for stewing, rinsed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 cups dry red wine such as Zinfandel or Merlot
2 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) diced tomatoes
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves or 3 tablespoons dried basil
18 peeled garlic cloves
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh-cracked or coarse-ground black pepper
Add wine, canned tomatoes (including juices), basil, garlic, and 1 tablespoon cracked pepper to pan with beef. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beef is very tender when pierced, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Skim off and discard fat. Add salt and up to 1/2 tablespoon more cracked pepper to taste.
Spoon polenta onto dinner plates or a large shallow bowl or rimmed platter. With a slotted spoon, lift out beef and mound onto center of polenta. Measure remaining pan juices; if less than 3 cups, add water to make that amount, return to pan, and bring to a boil; add salt to taste and pour juices into a serving bowl. Pass pan juices to add to taste. Garnish stew with oven-dried tomato slices and gremolata.
Place meat in a heavy-bottomed 5- to 6-quart pan. Add 1/2 cup water; cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer briskly over medium heat until meat is gray on the outside and has rendered juices and fat, 15 to 20 minutes.
Uncover pan, increase heat to high, and stir often until most of the liquid has evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high and stir often until meat juices have caramelized and darkened and meat has browned in the rendered fat, about 5 minutes longer. If drippings and the brown film on pan begin to scorch, reduce heat to medium.