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Forget pills. Eat stew.

When I was 18 I thought I could do whatever I wanted. Now in my 30s I think I can do whatever two paracetamol and a Red Bull will allow me to do.

If, like me, you’ve got a headache from the current ins and outs of 10 Downing St then this week’s recipe is for you: spezzatino di manzo (beef stew).

This dish was a reader-request and is perfect for the end of October. Rich in flavour, warm in mood, and impossible to get wrong.

This week’s album: 
Lost & Found by Jorja Smith

This album is incredibly mature considering Smith was only 20 when it was released. It’s all about Smith trying to find and define her identity - especially within an unsettled and difficult world - something she does effortlessly with great intelligence and confidence. Look out for a very strong second half with ‘Blue Lights’,‘Lifeboats’, ‘Goodbyes’, ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘Don’t Watch Me Cry’.

The humble stew

I considered a few slow-cooked options for this week.

Namely the famous ‘osso bucco’ (slow-cooked veal shin from Milan) and the less well-known Tuscan ‘stracotto’ (where a large piece of meat is slowly braised and served as a main course, with the sauce being used as a ‘primo piatto’ with pasta).

Despite these two treats, I opted for the humble stew. One that’s red-wine-heavy and scented with pancetta, soft and hard herbs, and a little vinegar. We’ll follow similar cooking steps to those of a ragù - browning the meat and using a ‘soffritto’ to really develop flavour.

I love a good stew but I’ve never been a fan of big chunks of veg, so we’ll finely dice them before cooking and blending them into the sauce.

Another stew pet peeve is an overbearing wine flavour. To rectify this we’re going to really cook the wine when it goes in. The harsh alcohol flavour needs to be gone before adding the remaining liquids. This means we get a wonderful depth of flavour from the wine without the harshness. Of equal importance is the wine you use. Make it one that you’d be happy to drink alongside the finished dish.

Good-quality meat always results in a better end product. Any sort of stewing steak works as we’ll cook it for four hours. I’ve used diced shin but chuck, short rib, or even ox tail would be good.

What should you serve the stew with? Try polenta.

Soft polenta - loaded with butter, parmesan, and maybe some greens - would make for an epic Sunday lunch. Alternatively, mashed potatoes are always a winner. Or, if doing a stew was effort enough, some really good bread would be an ace accompaniment.

One final tip: get everything prepped before you start cooking. This makes for a far more simple, and stress-free, cooking experience.

What you need

The below serves 6. It takes 25 mins to prep and 4 hours to cook (virtually all unattended).

1.5kg stewing beef (cut into 1 inch cubes)
100g plain flour
4 tbsps olive oil
150g diced pancetta
2 carrots
(peeled & finely diced)
2 celery sticks (peeled & finely diced)
1 large onion (peeled & finely diced)
3 garlic cloves (peeled & finely diced)
2 tbsps finely chopped rosemary
2 tbsps finely chopped thyme
500ml red wine
(full bodied & good quality)
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar (good quality)
400g tin of whole plum tomatoes
1L beef stock
(2 good-quality stock cubes with 1L water)
2 bay leaves
20g parsley leaves
(roughly chopped)
Sea salt & black pepper

Ready, steady, cook

1. Add the chunks of beef to a mixing bowl and season generously with salt. Let it sit for a few mins, then pat-dry with kitchen paper.

2. Heat a large casserole dish on the hob/stove over a high heat. While that heats, add the flour to the beef and toss well until all the beef is covered. There will be an excess of flour but this means it doesn’t get claggy.

Add half the olive oil to the pan and, when hot, add half the beef chunks (dusting off the excess flour as you do so). Colour the beef for a few mins over a high heat, turning occasionally. Don’t be tempted to keep stirring the beef as it will hinder the colouring process. When nicely browned all over, use a slotted spoon to remove the beef and transfer to a plate. 

Allow the casserole dish to heat up again. Add the remaining olive oil. Then repeat the process for the remaining beef.

NOTE: if your casserole dish is small then you might need to colour the beef in 3-4 batches. Only cover the pan in a single layer of beef each time. Any more will cool the pan too much and not allow the beef to colour properly.

3. Once all the beef is coloured, turn the heat down to medium and add in the pancetta, carrot, celery and onion. Sauté for 6-8 mins (or until the veg has softened without colour). Stir regularly. This avoids the veg from colouring and helps scrape off any stuck beef at the bottom of the pan.

4. Once soft, add in the garlic, rosemary, thyme and some freshly ground black pepper. Cook for a couple of mins, then add the beef back to the casserole dish. Stir well so that the veg covers it, then turn up the heat. Once starting to sizzle, add in the red wine. Bring to the boil and leave to cook for a few mins until the alcohol taste has burnt off.

5. Empty the tinned tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your hand so they break into small pieces. Once the alcohol has burnt off, add the tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, beef stock and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and then turn down to the lowest heat possible. Put a lid on and cook for 3 hours. After 3 hours, remove the lid and cook for another hour.

6. When the hour is up the sauce should have reduced to a thicker consistency. Let it sit for 20 mins. Check the seasoning, then stir through the chopped parsley and enjoy.

Final thought

As with any slow-cooked dish (stews, ragù, lasagna etc.), they really benefit from being eaten the next day. Just cook it as per the instructions above, let it cool at room temp for a couple of hours, then transfer to the fridge (leaving the flavours to marry up overnight).

When you’re ready, add a splash of water and reheat over a low heat. Perfect for easy entertaining.

Same time next week.


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Eat My Words · Kew Gardens · Kew, TW9 · United Kingdom

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