Hmmm, we seem to have a change in the weather. Shock, horror, only 25 degrees and very blustery. Lots of white horses on the water (or ‘white geese’ as our neighbour calls them) and the sun keeps hiding behind the clouds. Last night, we ate dinner inside for the first time since May – it was so windy that the contents of half of the garden were blowing around our terrace (which always includes the possibility of a flying saucer in the shape of a carelessly discarded cat bowl), and I also feared for the wine glasses – we’ve had so many blown over in the past, so now we always go for low-slung models when we are choosing replacements.
It seemed fitting to make something slightly autumnal in view of the changing conditions. We don’t eat meat very often, and I rarely cook it during the summer, so I decided it was the ideal time for a braise that could be prepared well ahead of dinner time and bubble away happily for a few hours. Linda had endured a 10-hour journey driving back from her trip to Capadoccia, so I thought she might also appreciate something warm and comforting when she got back.
I bought a bag of shallots earlier in the week – I didn’t have a particular plan for them, but we don’t see them very often around these parts, so I snaffled a bag while I had the opportunity. I forgot to buy any mushrooms (why am I so rubbish at shopping?), so it needed to be something that could rely on other things for flavour. I settled on a stew that I made the first time after seeing a recipe for moussaka which included cinnamon in the ingredients for the meat sauce. I have a bit of an aversion to both moussaka and lasagna, after making them so many times back in the 1980s when they were fashionable and I was cooking for a job, but I liked the idea of just a hint of cinnamon with the beef, and this was what I came up with.
Now, I do usually put mushrooms in this recipe (see note above re lack of shopping prowess), so I will include them in the ingredients and the method – you can just pretend they are in the photos too. They do add a lovely savoury flavour to the mix, but the stew was still absolutely delicious without them. As I wasn’t using the oven for anything else last night, I cooked this entirely on the hob, but it is also delicious cooked in a slow oven if you happen to be cooking jacket potatoes or something alongside it – I do find that the meat and the onions hold their shape better if they are cooked in the oven.
This served the three of us with some leftovers, so it would feed four to five people. I served it with creamy mash, greens and Cevdet’s carrots (recipe also below). It would also be good served over pasta, in which case I would cut the meat into slightly smaller pieces.
Mediterranean beef & cinnamon braise (and Cev’s carrots)
Serves 4 – 5
2 tablespoons olive oil
A generous knob of butter
600g stewing beef (chuck or shin are perfect), cut into bite sized chunks
20 small onions or shallots (if you can’t get these, use two normal onions, peeled and thickly sliced)
A couple of handfuls of mushrooms, cut into thick slices
2 – 3 cloves garlic (depending on size)
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon
The leaves from 3 sprigs each of thyme and rosemary, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks (or a heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon)
200g chopped tomatoes (about half of a standard tin) or the same quantity of passata
250ml white or rose wine
Salt & pepper
If you plan to cook this in the oven, pre-heat the oven to 150C.
Heat the oil and butter in a large saute pan or casserole and add the onions. Saute over a medium heat until they take on a nice golden brown colour.
Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside, then repeat with the mushrooms. Once the mushrooms are nicely golden brown, remove from the pan and set aside with the onions.
Add the meat to the pan and cook until well browned on all sides.
Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two more, then return the onions and mushrooms to the pan, along with the bacon, and let everything cook for a few minutes until the bacon is starting to brown.
Add the wine and give everything a good stir, making sure you scrape all the nice brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then add the tomatoes, water, cinnamon sticks (or ground cinnamon) and the herbs. If you don’t have fresh thyme and rosemary, you could use a teaspoon of mixed dried herbs, though the fresh herbs do add a lovely flavour if you can get them.
Season with salt and pepper, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to its lowest setting and leave to simmer for at least two and a half hours (or transfer to the oven once the sauce has come to a boil), stirring occasionally. Mine had about three and a half hours and I must say the onions had rather disintegrated (as you can see from the photo below), but it did taste absolutely delicious. The liquid will reduce to a delicious thick glossy sauce, but do check from time to time – if you think the sauce is drying out too much, just add some hot water from the kettle.
These are a simple variation on carrottes Vichy, which we used to cook at college, involving all sorts of very French things like a paper cartouche and other completely unnecessary complications.
Our friend Cev showed me how he cooks his carrots – I always do these on Christmas Day because you can cook them in the morning (leaving them just slightly undercooked), bung them in the serving dish and then just nuke them in the microwave or stand them in the oven for a few minutes before you are ready to serve. I always make sure to not let the water evaporate completely, then you have a delicious glossy buttery glaze that coats all the other vegetables when you tip the carrots into the dish with everything else.
You will need:
Carrots, whatever you will eat, cut into thick slices on the diagonal
A very generous knob of butter (about 25g)
Plenty of salt and pepper
A flat teaspoon of sugar
Finely chopped parsley or mint to serve (optional)
Put the carrots into a pan with the butter, sugar and salt and pepper, then add enough water to just reach the same level as the top of the carrots. Put on the heat and bring to a boil, remove the lid and turn down the heat so that the carrots are just simmering. Cook until you only have about half a centimetre of water left in the bottom (this takes about five minutes). You can either serve immediately, scattered with parsley or mint if you wish, or set the carrots aside and just reheat later. They take about a minute in the microwave, or you can just stand them in a hot oven while you get everything else together. (If your pan is too deep and you find that the carrots have cooked before the liquid has evaporated sufficiently, just take the carrots out and continue to reduce the glaze until it has reached the consistency you want – it should be still liquid but shiny and sticky).