Adapted from The Kitchn Cookbook by Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand and Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
|Jennifer and Amy|
I discovered Laurie Colwin back in 1989 when I picked up a copy of Home Cooking at the (then) tiny Barnes & Noble on East 86th Street. Once I found her, I read everything of hers I could get my hands on and was stunned - and saddened - to find out she died in her sleep from an aortic aneurysm in October 1992 when she was 48 years old. She was three years and two days older than I.
When I worked in Chelsea, I used to walk down the street from the General Theological Seminary and wonder which was the house she had lived in; where had she written, cooked dinner for friends, lived with her husband Juris, played with her daughter Rosa?
There are so many quotes of hers I remember at odd times of the day and night, but this remains my very favorite because I relate to it with every fiber of my being.
I love to eat out, but even more, I love to eat in. The best dinner party I ever went to was a black-tie affair to celebrate a book, catered by the author's sister. When we sat down in our long dresses and tuxedos, my heart failed. What sort of fancy something or other were we going to get? I remember the sad story told to me by a colleague who went to a white-tie dinner and received, for the main course, one half of a flounder fillet.
When the food appeared at this party I could scarcely contain my delight. It was home food! The most delicious kind: a savory beef stew with olives and buttered noodles, a plain green salad with a wonderful dressing, and some runny cheese and chocolate mousse for dessert. Heaven!
From Home Cooking by Laurie ColwinIf you have yet to discover Laurie Colwin, you're in for a treat. If you already know her, I imagine you revisit her often. All her books are still in print, and Open Road Media has just published them in e-book format. In addition to Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, which are the collected columns she wrote for Gourmet magazine, my two favorite novels of hers are Happy All the Time and Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object, each of which I re-read at least every two years.
The Kitchn adapted this recipe from Home Cooking, and I have adapted it further.
The Kitchn's recipe calls for 2 russet potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes, to be added with the other vegetables; however, I don't add potatoes. I feel they thicken the stew too much, especially if you have leftovers so they crumble into it upon reheating. If I wanted to eat this with potatoes, I would steam creamer potatoes cut in half, toss them with butter, and serve with the stew, not in the stew.
This stew is delicious served with - not over - polenta or (my favorite) plain old grits (not instant) mounted with lots of butter and heavy cream, with sides of green beans and a watercress and radish salad (dressed with Julia Moskin's French Vinaigrette).
Simple Beef Stew
Adapted from The Kitchn Cookbook and Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds beef chuck, grass-fed if you can get it, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes
About 1/2 cup olive oil
1 scant tablespoon Wondra Flour
2 cups red wine (whatever you will drink with the stew)
14.5 ounces tomato puree or passata (which is the same thing; I like Mutti Passata)
1/4 cup tomato paste
14-ounce can of Italian tomatoes (I like Mutti Polpo* - finely chopped tomatoes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 garlic cloves, smashed
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
*If you do not have Mutti Polpo, I suggest you use Muir Glen Whole Peel Tomatoes, which you finely smush/chop in a bowl, using your fingers and/or kitchen shears. Also, note that tomato puree/passata is not the same thing as tomato sauce.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the flour, paprika, and 2 teaspoons black pepper in a large bowl. Toss in the beef cubes, a few at a time, and keep turning them over and over until they are completely and thickly covered in flour. Set the cubes aside on a plate as you go along. Keep each cube separate, not one on top of another.
Heat 2 to 3 glugs of olive oil in a black iron skillet. Make sure the olive oil coats the bottom of the skillet evenly, and get it hot over medium heat. Brown the cubes all over, and remove them one by one to another clean plate as you go along until they are all browned. If the flour in the bottom of the skillet starts to burn at any time, clean it out, and start with fresh olive oil.*
Add enough olive oil to a large Dutch oven - I use a 7-1/4 quart Le Creuset Round French Oven for this - and sprinkle in a little Wondra Flour - a scant tablespoon. Cook, stirring; it does not have to brown. You are not making roux; you just want to eliminate the taste of uncooked flour.
Add the red wine, tomato puree, tomato paste, Italian tomatoes, salt, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. Sitr, and cook until the sauce warms up and amalgamates, about 5 minutes.
Place half of the meat into the pot, followed by half of the smashed garlic cloves, half of the carrots, and half of the onions. Add the remaining ingredients in the same order. Top with the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf.
Cover the pot, and place it in the oven. Cook for 2 hours and 40 minutes. Remove the cover, and cook for 20 minutes more.
Serve with grits, polenta, buttered noodles, or steamed and buttered halved creamer potatoes.
I deliberately do not brown the meat in the Dutch oven I am going to cook the stew in because I don't want to keep cleaning a heavy pot as the meat browns, and the flour on it burns in the bottom of the pot. It's much easier to clean a skillet, if necessary, as I go along, and I usually do clean it out halfway through the browning of the meat. If you decide to brown the meat directly in the Dutch oven, eliminate the step with the Wondra Flour.