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Beef Stew


olive oil
plenty of garlic
well-hung beef
bacon or pancetta
an abundance of mushrooms
a selection of winter vegetables: leek, carrot, celery, celeriac, turnip
flour, mace, allspice, black pepper
an ample glass of full-bodied red wine

The quantities are subjective. For some, a clove of garlic is enough, "That's plenty of garlic!" For others, who "want plenty of garlic", a whole bulb may be needed. The flavours of the various vegetables, and the meat should be balanced, but the balance will be different every time.

I bought a kilo of mushrooms for 99p. We had some for breakfast—mushrooms on toast. There were plenty left. They became shrivelled as they began to dry out. This is good. Halve the mushrooms (save the stalks for soup or stock). Take a large oven-proof pot. Toss the mushrooms with a little olive oil, plenty of garlic, ground black pepper, mace and allspice. Put the pot in the oven. Heat oven to 300°F 150°C, and leave the mushrooms to bake for an hour. If they are really dry, cover the pot; while there is any liquid, leave it uncovered. Baking brings out the flavour, and the water evaporated will later be replaced by wine. Clearly all this can be done in advance.

Slice the onions. Dice the bacon. Sweat them together with a little olive oil, either on the stove-top, or, covered, in the oven, until the onions are soft and lightly browned. Add them to the mushrooms.

Take your meat (I use rump steak) trim any fat and gristle and keep it to one side. Cut the rest into bite-sized chunks. Dredge these with flour, and fry a few at a time over a medium heat, using olive oil as required, until they are nicely brown. Add them to the onions and mushrooms. Fry the nasty bits until they too are nicely brown, and keep them aside.

The stew can be served with noodles, or perhaps potatoes, boiled, mashed, or baked. You can use it as the filling for a pie—turn the oven up to 425°F 220°C, put the stew in a suitable dish, cover with rolled puff-pastry, and put it in the hot oven. After ten minutes, reduce the temperature to 350°F 180°C, and cook for a further 20 minutes or so.

Dice and slice your vegetables only the hardy carrots and turnips will survive intact, so think what shapes you want them. The rest can just be cut in ¼'' (5mm) slices across the grain. Brown the vegetables gently in the pan. Add them on top of the mixture, then use a glass of red wine, some gentle heat, and a wooden spoon, to dissolve all the caramelised flavours stuck to the pan. Add the wine to the mixture, and, if required, a little water, or more wine. The meat should be mainly covered, but the vegetables are fine high-and-dry. Put the nasty bits on top of everything; they contribute flavour and texture. (But remember to remove them later.)

Cover and bake in the slow oven for a couple of hours.

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