I’ve noticed that my cooking is most often vegetable-driven: I will buy fresh veggies at the market or at the produce stall, and then decide what fish or meat will complement them — not the other way around.
On Saturday morning I returned from the farmers’ market with a basket of mostly root vegetables, not such a surprise in December: tiny spuds with a skin so thin you feel they should wear chapstick, young carrots with a wild tuft of bright green hair, and parsley roots, which were a novelty to me. They are called persil tubéreux in French, they look and taste somewhat like parsnips, and their small and flat leaves are a very tasty parsley that resists frost. Just like parsnips, they belong to the family of “forgotten vegetables” that were once very common but have fallen out of fashion — because they’re too vividly associated with war food, difficult to cultivate and prepare, or simply not very palatable to the modern eater.
Once this trio of root vegetables was neatly put to bed in their fridge drawer, it occurred to me that they would be lovely in a simple beef stew, slowly cooked so the different flavors would have time to meld. The next morning I paid a visit to my butcher Mario, asked for advice regarding the cut — I am not a very experienced stew maker — and got the jumeau he recommended, a tender cut taken from the upper part of the front leg. Mario’s wife then weighed it on an ancient mechanical scale because their electronic one had just broken down and it was Sunday so the repairman was unavailable.
This was the perfect dish to make on an ice-cold Sunday afternoon: around five I started peeling the vegetables, set the stew to simmer over low heat, and went about the house doing other things, intermittently coming back to check on it, breathe in the warm smells and get my glasses all steamed up. It was also the perfect dish to eat on a similarly ice-cold Sunday night, warm and comforting, with soft textures and sweet aromatic notes.
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- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 800 grams (1.8 pounds) boneless beef chuck (for those cooking in France, I used a cut called jumeau -- paleron or macreuse would work well too), cut in 1 1/2 inch pieces
- 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds) carrots, peeled and sliced
- 600 grams (1 1/3 pounds) parsnips or root parsley (persil tubéreux in French), peeled and sliced
- 300 grams (10 ounces) fingerling or new potatoes, scrubbed and sliced (it is unnecessary to peel them)
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 240 ml (1 cup) red wine
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot or cocotte over medium-high heat.
- Add in the onions, garlic and a tablespoon of water, and cook for a few minutes until translucent.
- Add in the meat and cook for a few more minutes, browning the pieces on all sides.
- Remove the meat and set aside on a plate.
- Add in the carrots, parsnips and potatoes, season with salt, pepper and cumin, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Return the meat to the pot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and pour in the red wine and 480 ml (2 cups) boiling water. Bring to a simmer, cover and lower the heat.
- Keep at a low simmer for 3 hours, stirring from time to time and adding in a little more water if the cooking juices seem to evaporate too much. You want to end up with a silky sauce, not too thick but not too watery either.
- Serve immediately, with a final sprinkle of salt on the meat. Alternatively you can let the stew cool, refrigerate, and reheat it to serve the next day; the flavors will improve overnight.