White Bean & Winter Vegetable Stew

We’re getting down to the dregs in terms of seasonal eating. My last CSA pickup was over a month ago. The green things at my local farmers’ market dwindled down to hearty spinach before drying up completely sometime in the middle of February. And so I have turned my attention to beans and storage vegetables (plus a little store-bought kale–hey, a girl’s gotta get her greens).

White Bean & Winter Vegetable Stew

  • 1 pound dried navy beans, soaked overnight and drained
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 large carrots, cut into large chunks
  • 2 celery stalks, cut into large chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon sage
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 ounce guanciale, cubed
  • 1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large bulb celeriac, peeled and cubed
  • 1 parmesan cheese rind
  • 1 Meyer lemon, skin and all, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper

Add the beans, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, guanciale, herbs and spices to a large Dutch oven along with enough water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for an hour or more, until the beans are tender. Fish out the celery, carrots and bay leaves. Add the squash, celeriac, cheese rind and lemon, and top with enough water to just cover everything. Bring back to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. When the vegetables have softened (about 15 minutes), stir in the kale along with plenty of salt and pepper. Cook until the kale is wilted. 

White Bean and Winter Vegetable Stew

It’s going to be another long and strenuous workweek. At least I’ve packed my lunch.

Packed Lunch

A Leap of Faith: Beef, Shiitake & Celeriac Stew

As 2014 barrels to a close, I find myself pondering leaps of faith…and making beef stew.

The past few months have brought some major, and for the most part self-initiated, life changes. I’m beginning to settle in, but have yet to really find my new rhythm. Or, rather, just when I think I have, the song changes. I’ve been impressed by my brain’s capacity to synthesize and adapt to new information (and have been killing the Times crossword puzzle as of late). But I’d be lying if I said these changes aren’t physically and mentally exhausting.

Early in adulthood I was faced with a major decision. A mentor and dear friend, noting my distress, observed that there were no right or wrong choices, merely different paths. I have shared this advice with countless people over the years and have taken great comfort in it myself. But, deep down, I’m still convinced that, with enough effort, I can analyze my way into the right choice.

There was a distinct moment in my late 20s when I realized that there was no answer key to life and that everyone is just making it up as they go along. Being an adult doesn’t mean knowing what to do in every situation. We learn from trial and error. We get better at selecting those we ask for advice. We learn to accept that things may not turn out as hoped. We also learn that things continue to evolve and, at some point, it’s bound to get better.

As hard as I am working to make the right choices, there are moments when I realize that what I’ve set in motion involves forces well beyond my control. Try as we might to reason our way through, our life choices are, ultimately, leaps of faith.

Stew, too, is an act of faith. You take a cheap cut of meat, sear it in some fat, and then braise it in liquid. About an hour into this process, the meat will be alarmingly tough and the surrounding gravy won’t taste like much. But keep the faith. Let it go another hour or two (each pot of stew having its own internal timeline) and you will find yourself with a tender and savory dish. It may not always be quite what you set out to make, but it will be good and nourishing. And it will get better with age; consider making your stew the day before, chilling overnight, and then reheating.

Mushrooms and Onions

Beef, Shiitake & Celeriac Stew

  •  3 tablespoons beef fat (or butter)
  • 2 pounds beef stew meat (chuck, sirloin or whatever else the butcher recommends)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 4 large carrots
  • 1 baseball-sized bulb celeriac
  • 1 pound shiitake (pr plain old button) mushrooms 
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 anchovies in oil
  • 2/3 bottle red wine
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprigs rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt fat or butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Toss meat with flour and a healthy pinch of salt. Brown meat in batches so as not to crowd the pan, allowing a nice dark crust to form. Set aside.Seared Beef
  2. If your fat is all gone, add the olive oil. Add the sliced onions and cook, stirring frequently, scraping up the dark bits at the bottom of the pan with the juices released by the onions. When the onions are soft and browned, add the carrots, celeriac, mushrooms and red pepper flakes. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften. Clear a spot in the pot and add the tomato paste and anchovies. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Deglaze the pan with a bit of the red wine, then add the rest of the wine plus the beef stock, herbs and sugar.
  3. Bring the stew up to a boil, pop a lid on, and turn the heat down low. You’re aiming for a slow simmer. Now is a fine time to take your compost to the farmers’ market. You may purchase a hot apple cider for the walk home but do no under any circumstances buy more vegetables given that you are leaving town in four days and still have the bulk of last week’s CSA share stashed in your refrigerator.
  4. After about an hour of cooking, remove the lid so that your sauce begins to thicken. Add a healthy dose of salt and pepper. Continue to simmer for one to two additional hours until your meat is fork-tender (but not complete mush) and the surrounding liquid is the consistency of a hearty gravy.

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Beef Stew