Rich beef stew with Parmesan mash

Rich beef stew with Parmesan mash

Le secoe con spuma di patate

Helen Cathcart

In Ristorante Taverna La Fenice, which has to be one of the prettiest and most romantic places in Venice, they serve an ancient recipe for slowly cooking the meat from of the spine of beef called le secoe. This dish is totally delicious: a cloud of cheesy potato on a rich beef stew. Traditionally this is eaten with risotto but here the chef served it in the bottom of a martini glass and topped it with foamed mashed potato which had Parmesan in it. The restaurant has served mainly meat dishes, as an alternative to the mainly fish restaurants, to opera singers and enthusiasts from the opera house, Teatro La Fenice, for generations; Maria Callas was a regular. There is even a secret passage connecting the restaurant to the theatre for the use of the artists.

It is hard to buy spine these days but really any cut that will break down slowly is ideal. So cheaper cuts of beef that we should be making more of are perfect for this dish. We have used beef neck, and sometimes beef cheeks, both of which render a rich flavour and soft meat after a few hours in the oven.

For the secoe


Quantity Ingredient
1.25kg beef neck on the bone
or 1kg beef cheeks, trimmed of sinew
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
30g salted butter
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 long sprig rosemary
120ml white wine
1 litre beef stock
or 1 litre Vegetable stock
or 1 litre Rita's chicken stock
fine salt
freshly ground black pepper

For the potato mash

Quantity Ingredient
2kg floury potatoes
100g parmesan, finely grated
200ml double cream
200ml milk
100g salted butter
1 teaspoon fine salt


  1. Heat the oven to 160°C. Season the beef and put it into a casserole dish over the heat with the olive oil, butter, vegetables and rosemary. Lightly brown the meat on all sides and then add the wine. Pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and transfer to the oven.
  2. Cook for up to 4 hours or until the meat falls from the bones. If you are using a different cut of beef, the cooking time will differ, for example stewing steak may only take 1 1/2 hours. Whatever cut you use, the meat should be cooked until it is really meltingly soft. Allow to cool. Spoon off the fat from the top of the stew and discard. Pick the meat off the bones if there are any and put the meat back into the sauce. Discard the bones.
  3. Cook the potatoes whole in their skins. This gives a better flavour and stops them from becoming saturated with water and making the mash soggy. Drain and allow to cool for a few minutes then peel them using a fork to hold the potato and a knife to help peel away the skin. Mash them through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl with the Parmesan, cream, milk, butter and salt. Use an electric beater to whisk in air and lightness, this will also help to get rid of any lumps so that the mash is completely smooth. To serve this as a starter, reheat the stew and divide into 10 small dishes. If you have a whipping siphon use this to pipe the foamy mash on to the hot stew. If you don’t, carefully spoon the mash on top instead. For a main course serve the stew onto piles of creamy mash. Any leftovers are wonderful on pasta or soft polenta with plenty of grated Parmesan.
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