Italians make goulash? Yes, indeed they do.
As we’ve observed before, the regions of Italy that were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, in particular Alto-Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia, and to a lesser extent Lombardia, retain many traces of its influence. And nowhere perhaps is this more apparent than in Trieste, the port city which sits on a small tongue of Italian territory reaching out eastwards from the Veneto along the shores of the Adriatic. After all, Trieste only became part of Italy when the empire was broken up after the First World War.
Given this history, today’s dish, gulasch triestino, the city’s local take on the world famous Hungarian dish, shouldn’t come as a surprise. The triestini have made the dish their own with some typically Italian touches: a splash of red wine, just a touch of tomato and, most notable of all, a bundle of fresh herbs that usually includes rosemary, lending the dish an unmistakably Mediterranean fragrance. Unlike other versions of the dish, the only vegetable in a gulasch triestino is onion, and lots of it. And in this incarnation, the dish is a true stew rather than a soup with a sauce that is thick and intensely flavorful.
Gulasch triestino is a lovely hearty dish for warding off the winter’s cold, especially warming as a piatto unico, accompanied with steaming polenta. A salad and perhaps some fruit to follow is all you need for a complete meal.
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) stewing beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 kilo (2 lbs) yellow onions, finely sliced or minced
- 2-3 Tbs Hungarian paprika (sweet or a mixture of sweet and spicy; see Notes)
- red wine (optional)
- a sprig of fresh rosemary, a sprig of fresh thyme (or marjoram) and a bay leaf, tied together
- 2 Tbs tomato paste (optional)
- lard or olive oil
- Salt and pepper
In a large braiser or sauté pan, melt two large dollops of lard. (If using olive oil, heat up enough to cover the bottom of the pan.) Add the onions and gently sweat them, turning often, until translucent and quite soft and reduced by at least half.
Raise the heat to medium and add the beef. Sauté the beef until browned lightly, taking care not to burn the onions. Season with salt and pepper, and then sprinkle over the paprika, stirring so that all the beef pieces are covered. Continue sautéing the beef and onions for just a few moments more.
If using, add a good pour of red wine and simmer until the wine has evaporated.
Now add enough water (or broth) so the beef is nearly covered, along with the tomato paste if using. Nestle the herb bundle in among the beef pieces.
Cover and braise for 2-3 hours, until the beef is tender and the onions have completed melted. Remove the herb bundle.
The cooking liquid should have reduced into a dark and unctuous sauce, abundant but thick and full of flavor. Add water or broth as needed if things seem to be drying out too much. If, on the other hand, the sauce is too thin, uncover the pot and continue simmering until it has reduced to a saucy consistency. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
While you can serve your gulasch triestino immediately, it is better after a good rest of several hours. Or, even better, overnight.
As I’ve noted before, this recipe for gulasch triestino follows the usual Italian sequence for spezzatini (aka stews): you sauté the aromatic vegetables first, then add the meat. This means you needn’t aim for a perfect sear on the meat, and with the prodigious quantity of the onion in this recipe that would be well nigh impossible anyway. It’s enough that the meat and onion get very lightly browned. In fact, some cooks simply allow the meat to lose its raw color and call it a day. Either way, the real aim here is to allow the meat to absorb the flavor of the onion, a step called insaporire in Italian, rather than to trigger a Maillard reaction. Having said this, if you really like that extra depth of flavor that comes from browning the meat well, then feel free to reverse this sequence. Even a few Italian recipes do.
Cooking times for the long, slow braise vary widely, usually somewhere between two and three hours as indicated in the recipe above. The exact time will depend on the quality and cut of your beef, how large or small you cut it up, as well as just how tender you like it. Personally, I like it fork tender, so I aim for something like two and half hours.
Choosing your ingredients
To my mind, the best cut for gulasch triestino—or any other beef stew for that matter—is the chuck (aka “braising steak” in the UK). Chuck has wonderful flavor and with its ample marbling stays juicy during the long braised required here. But with chuck seemingly getting quite pricey these days, you could turn to more economical cuts like the shank, which I used for today’s post and was perfectly delicious. Not quite as generously marbled but still very good indeed. You could also opt for the generic “stew beef” found in many supermarkets, which is generally the top or bottom round (topside or silverside in the UK) cut into cubes. It isn’t the most flavorful cut of beef and tends to dry out under long cooking, but it is still very economical. And with all the tasty flavorings going on here it should do in a pinch.
The paprika should be Hungarian, of course. And of the ‘sweet’ variety, though some recipes call for a bit of the hot stuff. I usually add 2 Tb of sweet and 1 Tb of the hot. It creates a good balance, recalling that Italian cookery, especially that of the north, isn’t terribly spicy. Some recipes are indeed quite discrete in their use of paprika, though personally I like my goulash quite paprika-forward. In a few Italian recipes you’ll see a pinch of cumin called for. None that I’ve seen call for caraway seed.
The magic ingredient: onions, and lots of them
The onion can be the typical yellow ones you’ll find in any markets. The most important point, though, is to make sure you use lots of them. Traditionally, the ratio of onion to meat should be 1:1 by weight. Along with the spice of the paprika, it is the savory sweetness of the onions that give gulasch triestino its unique—and utterly toothsome—flavor and, as they melt into the sauce, its velvety texture.
It will look like too much too much at first, but as mentioned, the onion will reduce down considerably before you add the meat. You’ll know the onion is done reducing when the fat begins to separate from it and begins to sizzle. NB: You will also need a lot of fat—again, more than you probably think it needs—for this to happen. If you like, you can always skim off the excess at the end of the braise.
Gulasch triestino is the perfect foil for polenta, but there are other options. Both Spätzle and Knödel would be excellent choices, too. As would, if you want to keep things simple, boiled or mashed potatoes. Buttered noodles, though not a very Italian choice, would also work.
Flour appears in some recipes for gulasch triestino, in two guises. In those few recipes where you start by browning the meat, you usually flour the beef lightly to aid browning. In other recipes, the flour is mixed with the water or broth as a thickener. If you ask me, the dish doesn’t need it. The onions, if you use enough of them, do the job perfectly. By adding flour you’d just cross that fine line from thick and luscious to dull and stodgy.
As noted in the ingredients list, the red wine is optional. Not all recipes call for it but, assuming you don’t overdo it, it adds a nice extra layer of flavor. Ideally you’d use a local Terrano, which would be lovely for washing down the finished product as well. Ditto for the tomato, which isn’t original to the dish. Some recipes call for quite a bit of tomato, turning the dish into a kind of umido. To my mind, a tad of tomato concentrate is fine for both color and flavor, but in a goulash—even an Italian one—the paprika should be allowed to stay on center stage.
The herbs also vary a bit from recipe to recipe, so feel free to mix things up a bit. The important thing is they should be fresh. To keep things simple, I like to buy those “poultry mix” packets of fresh herbs commonly sold in supermarkets here in the US. You needn’t tie up the herbs if you don’t want, but it does make it easy to dispose of them before serving.
- 1 kilo 2 lbs stewing beef cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 kilo 2 lbs yellow onions finely sliced or minced
- 2-3 Tbs Hungarian paprika sweet or a mixture of sweet and spicy
- red wine optional
- a sprig of fresh rosemary, a sprig of fresh thyme (or marjoram) and a bay leaf tied into a bundle
- 2-3 Tbs tomato paste optional
- lard or olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- In a large braiser or sauté pan, melt two large dollops of lard. (If using olive oil, heat up enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and gently sauté them, turning often, until translucent and quite soft and reduced by at least half.
- Raise the heat to medium and add the beef. Sauté the beef until browned lightly, taking care not to burn the onions. Season with salt and pepper, and then sprinkle over the paprika, stirring so that all the beef pieces are covered. Continue sautéing the beef and onions for just a few moments more.
- If using, add a good pour of red wine and simmer until the wine has evaporated.
- Now add enough water (or broth) so the beef is nearly covered, along with the tomato paste if using. Nestle the herb bundle in among the beef pieces.
- Cover and braise for 2-3 hours, until the beef is tender and the onions have completed melted. Remove the herb bundle.
- The cooking liquid should have reduced into a dark and unctuous sauce, abundant but full of flavor. Add water or broth as needed if things seem to be drying out too much. If, on the other hand, the sauce is too thin, simmer uncovered until it has reduced to the right consistency. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- While you can serve your goulash immediately, it is better after a good rest of several hours. Or, even better, overnight.
I made this all wrong and it was still delicious. The beef finger meat that I thought I was taking out of the freezer was sweet and sour cut pork ribs. I used bacon fat instead of lard. And I used smoky Spanish paprika instead of the proper non-smoky Hungarian kind. I found the smoky element intriguing, if not authentic.
Interesting! Glad you liked your pork rib goulash anyway! It does sound awfully good, even if different.
Ciao, Frank! Followed your recipe ‘out the window’ and ‘to the nth degree’. It was sublime, superb, and simply scrumptious! Wife’s family is from Abruzzo, so Janet made the polenta her way. No need to post a photo, as it looked exactly like your excellent photo. All-in-all: a perfect recipe, to be followed exactly, weights, options, time. Brilliant, as always! Thanks!
Fantastic, Amos! So glad to hear you enjoyed the dish. Sounds like you really hit the bullseye! Thanks so much for stopping by.
I didn’t know Italians make goulash. But it is not surprising considering that cuisines are influenced by each other (Think of cheeses, breads / flatbreads, or shortbread cookies that you can find almost everywhere). I love this goulash version thanks to the use of LOTS of onions!
Yep, and in this case there are some very specific historical reasons for the influence, too. And yes, the onions really do make the dish!
Oo, it looks so good :). My mother’s Austrian and I usually make her recipe, but I struggle a bit with the vague instructions (especially the non-specified amount of salt and paprika). I have to try this next. Your remark about not adding any other vegetables than onion was a bit baffling to me, as I have never had gulasch with anything else than onion, meat and paprika in it :D. Is this a variant you have encountered elsewhere?
Thanks, Ginatus! I do hope this recipe comes in handy for you!
As for the bit about the vegetables, if you Google “goulash” you’ll see why I thought it important to specify. Many if not most online recipes, even ones that purport to be authentically Hungarian, often call for potatoes, carrots, bell peppers and other veg.
This is an excellent recipe! Very tasty and the family loved it. I, for one, liked the fact that I didn’t need to fully brown 2 lbs of meat in the traditional manner.
Awesome, Scott! Thanks for letting us know. 🙂
i remember eating goulash many years ago in Belgrade! Lots of paprika!
Gotta love paprika! 🙂
lo ho fatto due giorni fa ed è venuto proprio molto bene, ora devo fare le patate! mi sai dire come mai, anche se seleziono la lingua italiana, quando vado a stampare la ricetta, ritorna la ricetta in lingua inglese? grazie!!!
Mi dispiace Ianfanco, purtroppo non lo so …
Yay! Our autumn favourite!!!!!!!
This is off the chain! Soulful and comforting. This dish is done right. Thanks for sharing with us.
And thank you for stopping by, Velva!
Ohhh this is something new to me, I never knew Italians make goulash and it looks wonderful
Thanks, Raymund! It really is tasty and well worth a try.
Yes, food is not aware the borders! I love the natural fusion of nearby countries’ cuisines. And I always loved reading about the spice route. Anyway, a fabulous recipe. I’ve been to Alto Adige but I mostly remember the scenery and the wine!
This dinner was so simple and so amazing. The gravy was so rich and full of flavor. Everyone loved it. Thank you for this recipe!
Delighted to hear it, Midge. Thanks so much for your comment!
I wrote about this recipe when I was working on a travel book about Friuli Venezia Giulia, what an interesting Italian region, so distinct from the rest of the country! I definitely need to try this recipe. Thank you for highlighting unusual Italian specialities 🙂
You’re welcome, FT! It is indeed a fascinating corner of the country.
At first, I was caught off-guard by the idea of an Italian goulash, but as you noted the regions are not all that far apart. It makes sense! And to add a Mediterranean spin on a classic winter comfort food? Sounds delicious! Plus, I’m a sucker for anything served over polenta! Looks fantastic, Frank. Happy New Year to you and your family, too!
Thanks, David! And Happy New Year to you and yours as well!
I love using the polenta! It is my ‘go to’ base for serving a wide range of beef braised in tomato. And of course I appreciate the tie in to the Austro-Hungarian influences. The cross regional influences are part of the excitement in Mediterranean foods!
Indeed they are, John! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂
Frank — I love the simplicity of this recipe, and it’s roots to the Australian-Hungarian culture. Paprika was always maligned when I was young — just some color to add to potatoes, but no flavor. Then I discovered the real thing and it was truly an experience. Both the sweet and hot are so good. I look forward to making this very soon… well, as soon as we have done winter weather again. (Days in the 70s don’t seem conducive to heavy meals.)
Another example of how good quality ingredients can make all the difference! Yes, this is quite the hearty meal, so best to wait for a chilly day, no matter what your age… 😉
I made this dish tonight and it was very well received on this chilly eve. I pared it with polenta and a lovely red wine from the other side of the northern part of the country, Valtellina. Divine, thank you!
Sounds nice! So glad you enjoyed the recipe.
My Austrian grandmother lived briefly in Trieste where she met her husband who was from Breslau. When my cousin from that marriage comes to visit I shall make this dish for us.
I hope you enjoy it, Tandy!
I have always been interested in the Austro Hungarian Empire and love the food, especially the desserts. I am looking for a good goulash recipe , maybe this is it.
Yes, those desserts are to die for, aren’t they? I remember them well from my Vienna days. As I do the goulash. Hope you do give this a try, it’s an especially nice version, I think.
In my opinion, the 1:1 ratio of meat and onions is the key for a good goulash. And a good quality paprika, of course.
Before serving, i add lemon zest and a little bit of orange zest to the goulash.
Thank you for sharing.
Couldn’t agree more, Johannes. I hadn’t heard of the lemon/orange zest tip before but it does sound very nice. Will try that next time I make goulash!
*smile* Having been a ‘Hungarian wife’ for four years way-back-when my cooking goulash seemed to end with that of the marriage !!! You make it sound rather attractive tho’ and I do like your triestino version . . . it seems more ‘light-hearted’ ! No, I have not used so many onions but do not mind at all . . . and, no I have always browned the meat first, so . . . But, red wine for me is not optional . . . and I am sort’of used to serving this with galushka !!!! Thanks heaps . . .
Dear, I hope I didn’t trigger any unpleasant memories… 😉 Anyway, I do hope you try this. I also had quite a bit of goulash back in the day, during my brief two year stay in Vienna. Personally I’m very fond of this version.
I like your blog very much. This recipe reminds me of Genoese Sauce (Neapolitan style). It’s made with cubed shin meat and onions – 1 lb to 1 lb. Brown the meat then put in large pot with onions and water. Add some white wine. Cook until the onions have melted and the meat falls apart. Serve with pasta and lots of grated cheese. Gnocchi, as Sebastian recommends, sounds delicious.
Thanks, Pamela! There’s certainly a resemblance there. You can find our recipe for la genovese here if you’re interested.
I had no idea there was Hungarian influence in Italy, but it makes sense. I don’t make Hungarian Gulyás so I can’t comment on how the Italian steps differ to the Hungarian but the Italian version sure does look good. This looks like the perfect meal for a chilly day. Happy New Year, Frank.
It certainly does hit the spot on a chilly night, Eva. Happy New Year to you and yours as well!
Caro Frank, grazie per aver provato il nostro goulash triestino. Nella mia città ci sono diverse varianti, ogni famiglia lo fa a modo suo, io uso solo alloro e non aggiungo vino, lo accompagno con le patate in tecia o con i chifeletti sempre di patate !
Grazie, Chiara! Adesso voglio scoprire le patate in tecia e i chifeletti!
That sounds fabulous with polenta!
It is said that the Hungarians made goulash without paprika (pimentón) until the 19th Century – it took that long to get from Spain all round the Southern Mediterranean, arriving in Hungary via the Ottoman Empire. I’m sure the Spanish in Southern Italy were cooking with it long before then, relative to the use of chillis in ‘nduja. It makes me wonder if people in the north might have had the magic ingredient early…
Thanks, MD! Interesting bit of history! Funny to think an ingredient which practically defines Hungarian cuisine (at least in the minds of us foreigners) is so very recent.
How do you cook polenta to serv with the goulash? Is it just cooked on water with salt or you add something else?
I would serve this with polenta simply cooked in salted water (recipe here) as the sauce is plenty rich already. But I have seen some people say they enjoy it with polenta concia—polenta enriched with butter and cheese.
Lovely! I would serve with gnocchi — either homemade or bought in Philly’s Italian Market. To make it more Italian, haha.