Another warming casserole

The temperature hovered around 0°C last night. I know that isn’t cold in some places but it is here. But the days are bright and the cold wind has dropped. The small plants from our first sowing of broad beans are doing well although those from the second sowing haven’t appeared yet. Everything else in the garden seems dormant apart from the herbs: bay, rosemary, thyme and parsley. I picked a large bunch of each for a casserole today. I love making casseroles because they seem to combine fresh ingredients in a magical way that creates something more than the sum of them all. And you can go out for a Sunday morning stroll in the sun, leaving it all to cook gently, and return to the appetising smell that fills the kitchen, as we did at lunchtime today.

beef + red wine-1

Beef and red wine casserole – for 4

600 grams stewing beef (I used jarret or shin), cut in chunks; 1 onion, finely chopped; 3 carrots, finely chopped; 6 cloves of garlic, chopped; sprigs of rosemary and thyme; 2 tablespoons chopped parsley; 3 large bay leaves; 2 tablespoons juniper berries and 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar; 2 dozen black olives; 500 ml red wine; 1 large glass Cartagène or brandy (optional); 1 tablespoon flour; olive oil; salt.

Cook the onion and carrot in a little olive oil in a cast-iron pan until the onion has softened. Add the pieces of beef, stir and allow to brown slightly. Add the garlic, juniper berries, peppercorns and Cartagène and stir again. Cover the meat with the red wine and add the herbs and salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for 3 hours, checking occasionally that there is enough liquid and adding the olives after about 2 hours. 10 minutes before serving mix the flour with a little of the liquid from the casserole then add the paste back to the pan to thicken it.  Serve garnished with the chopped parsley, with rice or, as we ate it for lunch today, with potatoes mashed with olives and garlic.  Guaranteed to warm on a winter’s day!

beef + red wine-2

Cooking pots on the street


Spotted outside a shop in Pézenas today: a traditional Provençal daubière and some Moroccan-inspired tagines, a couple of bowls and some jam funnels.  The daubière is used for making the slow-cooked dish of beef, vegetables, red wine, garlic and herbs known as la daube.

In literature, this dish is associated for me with Mrs Ramsay and her dinner party in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, although of course Mrs Ramsay didn’t prepare it herself. “The cook had spent three days over that dish”, we’re told, while Mrs Ramsay takes the credit for the fact that it is “a triumph”. “It is a French recipe of my grandmother’s”, she says. And sure enough, when I googled boeuf en daube others too had published la recette de ma grandmère.

Elizabeth David gives a good, if rather complicated recipe in Mediterranean Food for those of us whose grandmothers didn’t make it (my maternal grandmother was a vegetarian so she certainly didn’t).  She cooks the marinade first before adding it to the meat the day before cooking.  I would just add red wine, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme, peppercorns and garlic to the meat and leave it overnight. Next day add sliced carrots and onions and some more wine and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. As Elizabeth David says, “This dish has a really beautiful southern smell and appearance.”

There are as many recipes for tagine as there are pots to cook them in, but my version of lamb and olive tagine is on the Food from the Mediterranean blog – here.

Breaking the rules

As I’ve said before and discussed more fully when this blog was in its other place a few years ago, I don’t believe that beef production is sustainable.  Unlike lamb, pork and poultry production, for example, which can be beneficial and necessary to the agricultural cycle (although I know it isn’t always), raising beef cattle is too wasteful of the earth’s resources to be acceptable.  So I don’t eat beef very often…..but rules are there to be broken and when the weather is as cold as it is now there is nothing like a beef casserole for providing much needed warmth.

Some of the juniper berries in my photo yesterday were for a marinade for some stewing beef.  I added them to some red wine, chopped carrots and garlic, a couple of bay leaves, some ground pepper and a sliced echalotte onion and left the pieces of beef in this marinade overnight.  Today I added some more wine and a little salt, brought it all to the boil and simmered for about two and a half hours, adding some black olives for the last hour or so.  It’s ready now to be re-heated and served with rice for supper tonight: