Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Genovese Beef Stew (Stufato di manzo all Genovese)

“April is the cruellest month”, TS Eliot’s The Wasteland, 1922.
There is almost nothing in the fridge and I cannot face going to the shops on a sunny day during the school holidays.  I’d pulled some casserole beef from the freezer last night and after a little flicking through some cookery books, decided to make this simple Genoese stew from Elizabeth David’s Italian Cookery:  Slice up onions and sweat in melted butter in a large casserole dish for about five minutes ( I used four medium sized onions).  While the onions are cooking; prepare garlic, a thinly sliced carrot (sliced, not diced), celery and a couple of skinned tomatoes.  The easiest way to skin a tomato is to score it with a knife, put it in a mug and then cover it with boiling water straight from the kettle for a few minutes.  It might seem a slight faff, but it makes a subtle difference to the texture of the dish and barely takes a couple of minutes.  You’ll then be able to peal the skin off the tomato easily. 
When the onions are translucent, add the beef to brown for a few minutes until the meat is sealed and the garlic.  Elizabeth David says to put the beef in as whole steaks, but I preferred to slice ours.  Then add the carrots, celery, tomatoes and some basil (dry, or fresh chopped) and stir for a few minutes. Ideally you’ll have some fairly inexpensive dry wine for cooking, rather than raiding the wine store and using a rather fine Pinot Grigio, as I did.  Add one large glass, just enough to just cover the ingredients.  Once it is all simmering, slam on the casserole dish and bung in the oven for 2-3 hours.  I actually left mine to slow cook in our Aga for about 6 hours.

Once cooked, the smell of onions and wine is divine.  I also like the subtle use of tomato in this stew.  The secret of this dish is not to use more wine than is necessary so it becomes a dense stock rather than the other ingredients swimming in the wine.  I sprinkled some chopped fresh basil over the top before taking to the table.

I was going to serve it with a sweet potato gratin but to be honest, the sweet potatoes were looking slightly after their ‘best before’ and I was done with chopping.  Instead, I kept it simple; I cooked up some fusilli pasta with olive oil and a bowl of peas with a knob of butter.  Husband was happy with an opened bottle of Pinot Grigio and enjoyed the stew.  He was less impressed with pasta and peas which he felt let the stew down.   I was tempted to invoke the words of John Lennon “give peas a chance” but he had a point.  However, I felt the fusilli was in the Italian spirit and would please the kids who enjoyed trying to say ‘Stufato di manzo’.

Eliot’s ambiguous opening line; “April is the cruellest month” probably meant that April is an in between time, a pause, as the seasons change.  There is the promise of Spring without it’s treasures being in full bloom. I have been reading the Wasteland backwards the last few days, to see if makes any more sense.  It is still beyond me. 



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