I had a wonderful Christmas at my daughter’s in Worcestershire and came back to London on Boxing Day. The following day my brother was due to come with my niece and nephew and a friend. I thought a good break from Christmas food – much as I like it – would be a fish pie. But when I checked with my brother, I learned that niece Clara didn’t like fish pie. OK, I texted, how about a beef stew. This brought an enthusiastic, Yes please!
If there’s a story to every good recipe, then here comes the story.
I had in mind the Gino D’Acampo recipe I made recently with red wine, olives and oranges – an Italian recipe that bridges the French-Italian border to Nice (once part of Italy) and is much like the classic Boeuf Daube. When I searched under ‘Beef’ on the blog though, I couldn’t find the recipe. Confused, I thought I must have made a mistake when assigning it a category. So I searched simply ‘Recipes’ knowing I’d made it recently. The mystery was soon solved. I’d made a lamb stew, not a beef one.
Well, beef was what I’d suggested and so I was going with beef. Given the recipe’s closeness to a Daube recipe, then it was going to work well anyway. So I set off to Waitrose in Richmond yesterday morning to buy ingredients. Well, it’s holiday time and even in Waitrose, shelves were a little bare (Old Mother Hubbard would have sympathised). I stood at the meat counter as I always buy braising steak there rather than pre-packaged. The woman in front of me was buying 2kg of Aberdeen Angus braising steak … what I planned to buy … and they were running low. As I watched her keep saying to the sales assistant, Another couple of slices, please, I began to think shopping wasn’t going to be as easy as I’d thought and I might have to change plan and go to the Waitrose in Twickenham. It looked like it was a case of ‘counting chickens before they hatched’ or in this case, ‘counting on a kilogram of braising steak before it was weighed and packaged and in my shopping trolley’. When finally it was my turn to be served, I asked the assistant to weigh the remaining beef. If it was less that 1kg I’d have to go elsewhere. But joy! It was 1.35kg. I’ll take it all, I said. In my enthusiasm, I had more than I’d planned on but as I’ve said before, a good stew needs extra made for freezing. So that’s what I’d do. It meant a little improvisation with the recipe – more than just the lamb-beef swap. But stews aren’t like baking, where precision is important. Stews are moveable recipes that can adapt to circumstances and a little invention.
Thus I changed the quantities a little. I also noticed in the original recipe that while some onion was fried at the beginning to start the sauce, there was no carrot or celery. I decided to begin my stew with the classic and important soffritto. This combination of onion, carrot and celery, finely chopped and gently fried in olive oil, gives depth and flavour to a sauce and is a classic base for many Italian dishes.
A family gathering requires more than a main dish, however good a main dish it is. But – much as I love my brother and his kids – there was only so much cooking I wanted to do after a busy (if lovely) Christmas and a drive to and back from Worcestershire. Thus I employed some of my quick fixes in the kitchen.
For starter, I went to Corto Italian Deli and bought some sliced Italian meats. I then made a last minute decision as I was putting things together to roast some red peppers, skin them, and serve them on the side of the meat. I also made some classic tomato & basil bruschette.
There was a basket of fresh bread – sourdough and olive ciabatta from Your Bakery Whitton, which I’d bought in the morning, and taralli (little bread biscuits) from Corto. There was a bowl of olives and some almonds. All very simple and quickly fixed!
Dessert was even easier and most definitely a ‘fix’! Some Grom ice cream from Waitrose, and macarons from Paul bakery. I didn’t make any of it and it was a great hit! I think Clara and Leo are going to persuade their dad to buy Grom ice cream next time he’s in Waitrose.
So to the beef … made in the morning and slowly cooked in the oven for 3 hours … then left to rest until supper time.
Beef Stewed with Red Wine, Olives & Orange
- 1.35kg beef braising steak
- a little plain flour
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (see recipe)
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 large stick celery, finely chopped
- 1 large or 2 medium carrots, finely chopped
- 120g pitted black olives
- 3 bay leaves
- juice and grated zest of 2 oranges
- 350ml red wine
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Dice the steak if not already diced (I prefer to do it myself and cut fairly large even chunks – about 2.5cm cubes). Sift some plain flour on to a large plate and season well with salt and black pepper. Now put some pieces of beef, a few at a time, into the flour and turn with your fingers to coat each piece. This coating of flour helps thicken the sauce as it cooks.
Fry the beef a few pieces at a time in a couple of tablespoons of heated oil in a large frying pan. Turn just once or twice to brown all over – don’t keep turning – and then remove to a plate with a slotted spoon. Add more pieces of beef and more oil as necessary, until all the beef is nicely browned with a slight caramelisation at the edges (which will bring a gorgeous flavour to the finished dish). Put it all to the side on a separate plate.
Now add a little more oil to the pan you’ve cooked the beef in and add the chopped vegetables. Fry gently until they’re colouring and softening a little.
Now add the olives, bay leaves, orange zest and juice and stir well. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the red wine.
Allow it to all bubble for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol, stirring occasionally. Now add the chopped tomatoes, honey and thyme and stir well.
Bring up to a boil and as soon as it starts to bubble round the edge, pop a lid on and put straight into a preheated oven (150C/Fan 130/Gas 2). Cook for 2 hours and then check it. Stir and see if the meat is tender. You’ll probably need more time – mine needed an extra hour, so 3 hours in all.
Check the seasoning. Apart from the seasoning with the flour, it’s best to season at the end. The olives are likely to be a bit salty so check how much salt you need. I also like to add a good amount of freshly ground black pepper – but all to your own taste.
I turned my stew off and then gently reheated later near supper time. I served with some white potato-sweet potato mixed mash and a big salad of green leaves, radicchio and finely sliced fennel.
It was really gorgeous. Because I’d added two oranges (my original lamb recipe had just one), it was quite orangey but I liked that, but if you’re not sure, stick to one orange. However you make it, the combination of the flavours of beef, red wine, orange and olives with the bay leaves and fresh thyme is absolutely gorgeous. And I’m so glad I made extra … I fed 5 of us generous portions but have another 4 for my freezer! A perfect ‘ready made’ meal for another wintry night.