This Italian beef goulash is cooked low and slow on the stove-top until fork-tender, with a rich tomato and paprika sauce. Serve with potato gnocchi, polenta or pasta.
While we often think of Goulash as a Hungarian dish, there is an Italian style beef goulash that is equally delicious. While the Italian version no doubt has its roots in the Hungarian dish, the Italian version adds lots tomato flavour and cooks without added vegetables.
This goulash simmers low and slow completely on the stove-top and will make your home smell wonderful all afternoon. When ready to eat, cook up some gnocchi, polenta or pasta and enjoy!
Beef – You can start with pre-cut stewing beef cubes or cut up the cubes yourself from a beef roast. You want to pick a roast that isn’t too fatty, as we don’t want to introduce a lot of fat into the lovely gravy. So avoid a shoulder/blade roast. A round, rib or sirloin roast is a good option. Cut away any excess fat on the roast before cutting into cubes.
Tomato Paste – I highly recommend tomato paste here and the tomato paste in the small can specifically, as the measure will use the better part of the small 5.5oz can. You can use the tomato paste in the tube, but you’ll end up using much of the tube, so it’s not the best use of it really. If you have no tomato paste, you can use crushed, canned tomatoes, though the tomato flavour will be less than you will get from the more concentrated tomato paste.
Onions – You will need a good amount of onion here. Traditionally, this Italian-style goulash has almost as much onion by weight as beef. You can use red onion or yellow onion or a bit of both.
Paprika – A nice, sweet paprika is used, preferably Hungarian, if you have it. You don’t want to use all hot paprika, as there is a lot of paprika in this dish and the result would be spicier than most might enjoy. If you like a little heat, you can stir in a bit of hot paprika towards the end of cooking, if you like.
You will also need – water, all purpose flour, bay leaf, dried thyme and oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper. To make as illustrated, you will also need potato gnocchi, either homemade from your favourite recipe or store-bought.
This dish cooks entirely on the stove-top. First, the onions are softened, then the beef is added and browned. Add the spices and a bit of flour, along with some tomato paste. Then, add hot water just until the meat is covered. Partially cover (don’t completely cover the pot) and simmer over medium-low heat for about 3 hours. As it is cooking uncovered, the liquid will evaporate somewhat as it cooks, so you’ll need to add a glass-full of water to the pot a couple of times while it cooks. Ease up on the water towards the end of cooking, adding only as needed to keep it loose, so that the sauce thickens up nicely at the end.
- Whenever I see water as a main ingredient dishes, I almost immediately think I might like to swap it out for something with more flavour, like broth or wine. Let me assure you, you don’t need to do that with this dish, providing you are using the tomato paste. As it is such concentrated flavour and with the naturally-produced beef broth from the simmering beef, there is lots of flavour here. That said, if a bit of red wine happened to find it’s way in to the pot instead of the splash of water, it wouldn’t be out of place :)
- Be sure that you cook the onions until they are soft before adding liquid to the pot, so don’t rush that process. Despite the long cooking time, if the onions aren’t soft at the start, they won’t soften much more during the cooking. Since we want soft onions at the end of cooking, making sure they are soft at the start is the way to achieve that.
- Watch the amount of liquid you add towards the end of cooking. You want to allow the sauce to thicken as it nears the end of cooking, but o so much so that you risk the mixture becoming too dry and scorching on the bottom of the pan and introducing a bitter flavour to the dish. The best strategy is to watch closely at the end, stir regularly and add a bit of liquid more often, rather than a lot less regularly.
- Since we are using water here, rather than a salted broth, this one will need any extra bit of salt in the pot to really round out all the flavours. Be sure to taste at the end and add salt as needed.
- Left-overs keep well in the fridge for several days or can be frozen to enjoy another meal some other time.
Serving Suggestions for Italian Goulash
A classic dish of the Trieste region of Italy, this Goulash Alla Triestina is often served with potato gnocchi, as I have done here. That said, there are many ways you can (and should!) enjoy this wonderfully flavourful dish. I’ve listed a few different ways below.
- Serve over potato gnocchi.
- Serve over polenta.
- Serve over pasta.
- Serve with mashed potatoes.
- Serve alongside roasted potatoes and carrots.
Get the Recipe: Italian Style Beef Goulash with Gnocchi
- 1 1/2 lbs beef, cut into 1-inch-ish cubes (650g)
- 1 lb onions, yellow and/or red onion, peeled, halved and sliced (400g)
- 1-2 Tbsp Olive oil, for cooking onions
- 1 Tbsp water
- 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves, or 1/4 tsp plus a couple of fresh thyme sprigs
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano leaves
- 1/4 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 cup tomato paste, (100ml)
- 1 Tbsp paprika, sweet, preferably Hungarian
- 3 cups hot water
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and 1 Tbsp water. Cook onions, stirring regularly until nicely softened and opaque, but not browned, about 4-5 minutes. Add the beef cubes and a sprinkling of salt and cook with the onion, stirring and rotating the beef cubes so they cook on each side, about 10 minutes.
- Add the paprika and flour and stir in, cooking for about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, oregano and rosemary to the pot and stir just to combine. Pour hot water over the meat and onion mixture, just until the water covers the meat. You may not need all of the 3 cups of water or you may need a bit more. Season the pot with a bit more salt and some freshly ground pepper and stir.
- Reduce heat to just a bit above low (or what ever setting maintains a gentle simmer. DO NOT COVER POT with lid, but you can set a lid askew over the top, so moisture can escape, but spatters and heat is contained a bit. Simmer for about 3 hours, checking and stirring periodically and adding additional hot water as needed to keep the mixture moist. Generally adding 1/4-1/2 cups of water a couple of times, but only if needed and as needed. As the cooking time nears the end, add only enough water to keep the sauce loose, but not so much that it will thin the lovely, thicker sauce that is forming. The best strategy at the end part of cooking is to add less water, but add it more regularly (every 5-10 minutes). Watch closely during the last part of cooking to make sure the mixture doesn't dry too much and scorch.
- Taste sauce and add additional salt and pepper, as needed. Serve warm with cooked potato gnocchi, over polenta or pasta. Garnish with some grated Parmesan, if you like.