Beef stew. Nothing more delicious, particularly on a winter evening. The rich aroma of that combination of wonderful ingredients cooked together is irresistible.
Beef stew, pure and simple. Well, in fact, not so simple, at least when selecting what should go into it. There are lots of ways to make it. Each nationality has its own core recipes for this treasure. Here is a good basic one which can hold up its head in any competition. (And further on we address how to serve it).
We need a Dutch oven. (I have a page, click here). Yes, we could just use a regular old pot, but a Dutch oven, or casserole, just seems to do a better job of concentrating all those flavors. And besides if there is any stew left over, we can just store it in the refrigerator in the Dutch oven because the enamel coating preserves the stew so well.
A pound and a half or so of stewing beef cut up into cubes. Pour some EVOO into the casserole, add smashed garlic cloves (the more the merrier), and turn on the burner to a fairly high heat. Cook the garlic long enough that the EVOO becomes thoroughly infused into it. Add the beef and brown it. (For EVOO, click here).
Add baby carrots, celery, and scallions. Beef broth to cover, and some red wine -- these also are essential. Oregano and basil. Maybe some rosemary as well, particularly fresh rosemary if you have it. Coarse ground salt and coarse ground pepper (of course). Some capers, some hot sauce. Finally a large (not giant) can of tomatoes, the type which has basil inside the can as well as the tomatoes. Trader Joe's sells a good one; use the tomatoes that are salted. Simmer, covered, on a low flame for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.
The picture shows the result. Looks pretty good, does it not?
Of course, the basic recipe can be varied in innumerable ways. We can omit the tomatoes, for example, or make the red wine the basic liquid and the beef broth secondary. Vegetable broth can be substituted for the beef broth, or added to it. Red wine and vegetable broth work very well here together.
Mushrooms are a particularly good addition, either whole or thickly sliced. Pieces of fennel can be added as well. Those little white onions -- don't forget adding them as an option. Peppers of various sorts and various colors. Leeks instead of scallions. Green or other beans, or peas. Broccoli florets, easy to buy. There is, obviously but worth say, a world of possibilities.
The spices can be varied. Rosemary instead of oregano, or rosemary in addition to oregano. Coriander. Some like thyme. Maybe some cumin or tumeric, if we want to veer out of the Mediterranean. Likewise a little soy sauce, which adds a note from the Far East (not Boston, but China!). The amount of hot sauce can be varied, too, with predictable results, delicious results if you favor considerable spiciness. .
We present here three delicious foods on top of which the beef stew can be placed and which will enhance its flavor. Of course, we don't have to serve the stew on top of these: it could go beside any one of them just as well. But these three seem to be particularly good at welcoming the stew to come into their midst.
Nor are these three the only possibilities. What can you think of that would work here also?
Mashed potatoes. That is our first option.
These are easy to make at the same time we are making the stew. Peel, boil until soft, and mash just about any type of potato you favor. What could be simpler?The little red ones or the little yellow ones are good choices, but actually any type of potato can be used here, and in fact the ones illustrated here are good old Russet potatoes .
Spoon the mashed potatoes in a circle around the plate and leave the center for the stew. The beef stew is of course the star of the show.
We can cook the polenta the old fashioned way, stirring and stirring until it thickens for more than an hours. A faster option is to buy one of those tubes of polenta, remove the plastic, put the tube in a microwave and heat it. Take it out, add a little water, mash it down and heat again. Take it out, stir, add some butter, and heat again.
Again, spoon this in a circle around the plate and leave the center for the stew.
Another polenta tube option is, rather than heating it in the microwave, to cut the tube into rounds, grill the rounds (which takes a bit more time that you might originally think) and serve the stew over those.
This might be even simpler than the potatoes. Since our beef stew here is loaded with tomatoes, it is of course natural to think of combining the beef stew with some form of pasta.
Tubular pasta is best for this, but linguine or spaghetti will do just as well if that is what you prefer. Just cook the pasta to the tradtional al dente, then spoon it onto the plate and cover it with stew. Add some grated or shaved Parmesan. A mouth-watering presentation.
Here we have used orecchiette, "ear pasta" -- called so, of course, because the pasta pieces resemble ears. Not really a tube-shaped pasta, but one that is very different from the noodle pastas.
It is a fact that beef stew is simple to make and delicious.
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