I first had oxtail when my husband's mother made it for a Christmas dinner, and I loved its intense flavor and melt-in-your mouth texture. This is her recipe, adjusted here and there, and paired with a ribbon-styled pasta. The pasta is like lasagne, but about half its thickness, and half its width, very much like a lasagnette noodle. Once you start braising the oxtail in the red sauce, it's not an exacting process; you taste and adjust with a little more wine and parsley, and maybe a little more stock, and let it reduce until it has a medium thickness. Generally though, it should be blessed with a depth of color from just enough red wine, lightened in flavor with some freshly minced parsley towards the end, perfumed with a little extra sprinkle of dried oregano, and then adjusted for salt and pepper. You can make this recipe up to the point of putting the oxtail and red sauce together, then refrigerate the two together overnight. Make the pasta the next day so it's fresh and finish braising the oxtail in the sauce, and you're done.
I think this dish will become a regular in our repertoire of holiday traditions. It's a very good way to end another year on the musician, who cooks, and I wish you a blessed new year. May you continue to explore and experiment and eat. I know I will, and I hope you'll join me here. ¡Buen provecho!
Oxtail in Red Sauce with Ribbon Pasta
For cooking the oxtail:
4 lbs. oxtail pieces
1 onion, skin removed, cut into quarters
2 ribs of celery, cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
1 large carrot, cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
3 or 4 whole sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
4 quarts water
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 cups onion, minced
1 cup green bell pepper, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
About 1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
8 large Spanish olives, minced
28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
freshly ground pepper
For the pasta:
1-3/4 cup/200 grams whole spelt flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons clarified butter
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
A large hunk of aged manchego cheese, for grating over the oxtail and pasta when serving
(Note: To make the pasta, follow this whole spelt pasta recipe using the proportions listed above. Follow the directions to process the dough, with these changes: If you are using a pasta machine, you will only be using the flat rollers to process the pasta. You'll be starting with the #1 setting and ending with the #4 setting. This will create wide, flat pasta dough that is about half the thickness of most store-bought lasagne noodles, or about the thickness of card stock. Once you have the dough rolled out into four very long pieces, trim each end so it has a straight edge. Divide each piece into 10 or 11-inch long sections, then cut each section in half lengthwise. This will become your ribbon pasta for the dish).
Put the oxtail pieces, onion, celery, carrot, bay leaf, parsley and water in a large 8-quart stockpot. Bring to a strong simmer over high heat, then lower to a medium-low simmer. Cover and cook for 2 hours, or until oxtail meat is tender when pierced with a fork. When tender enough, remove the oxtail pieces to a large plate. Strain the left-over stock using a piece of unbleached muslin placed in a large strainer over a large 8-quart metal bowl. Reserve for mixing into the red sauce.
In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the spelt pasta following the directions in the recipe link listed above. Cover and let sit for at least one hour before rolling out and cutting into pieces.
While the oxtail cooks, prepare the red sauce. Prep the ingredients, then heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large 4 or 6 quart saucepan. Add the onions and bell pepper and sauté for several minutes until starting to caramelize. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple minutes until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until slightly darkened, but be careful not to burn it. De-glaze with 1/2 cup of the red wine. Add 1/4 cup of the parsley, the oregano, and all of the olives, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, using a potato masher to coarsely crush the tomatoes. Stir in the red wine vinegar, and cook, partially covered, over medium heat for about 30 minutes until the flavors have come together. Then turn the heat up slightly and reduce the sauce to a thicker consistency, removing most of the liquid. Adjust the heat if necessary to keep the sauce from burning as it reduces. Once the sauce has reduced enough, remove it from the heat and let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and carefully purée on high until smooth. Note how much purée you have by the measurements on the blender container, or measure using a 1-quart pyrex glass measuring cup. You should have 3 to 4 cups of purée. Set aside.
Roll out the pasta and cut into pieces as described in the note section above. Lay aside on towels until ready to cook.
When the oxtail is ready and you've strained the stock, rinse and dry the large 8-quart stockpot. Pour the puréed red sauce back into the stockpot, and add the reserved stock at a 3:1 ratio to the purée. So if you have 4 cups of purée, add 12 cups of stock. Stir to mix together, then add the oxtail pieces. Cook the oxtail and sauce together over medium heat, partially covered, and keeping at a medium simmer until the sauce thickens and the oxtail becomes very tender. Towards the end of the cooking process, add the remaining 1/2 cup of wine, a little more dried oregano, and half of the remaining minced parsley, reserving some parsley to sprinkle over the finished dishes when serving. Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
While the oxtail and sauce cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spelt pasta until al dente, about 4 to 6 minutes for fresh pasta, and 10-12 minutes for dried. Check a small piece every couple of minutes to be sure you won't over cook it. Strain in a colander in the sink.
Once the sauce has thickened and the oxtail is very tender, remove the oxtail pieces and divide them evenly over four plates. Toss the freshly cooked pasta into the remaining sauce to coat, then divide evenly among the four plates. Sprinkle each serving with the remaining minced parsley, and grate a generous amount of aged manchego cheese over each. Serve immediately.