I wanted to draft this before going on holiday so that you’d have something ideal for these increasingly bitter nights while I’m away. It’s confusing to be packing summer clothes and sunscreen at the same time as writing up a recipe for the best ever beef stew, cooked slowly and surely over a few hours as the rain falls outside. It’s the one thing I associate most strongly with one-pot winter food, and the only thing that satisfies the dark nights’ need for truly deep and hearty belly warmth. If you only make one stew this winter, make it this one – it can’t fail you, and is so easy to make, and then mop up with bread crusts, that you won’t be let down.
I’ve simplified it even further from one of Jamie Oliver’s original recipes, and it can take any variety of sturdy vegetables. It’s also one of those recipes that I’ll keep for life, and which I know can be pulled together by combining those ingredients I so often have around the kitchen: half a bottle of leftover red wine, no longer good enough to drink; a few root vegetables in the bottom drawer of the fridge, a tin of tomatoes and some twiggy garden herbs. Easy: all I needed was to cycle down to the butcher’s to buy the beef. Intended to serve 4, but 3 greedy mouths got their way with this batch.
Preheat the oven to 160ºC. Put a little oil and a knob of butter into your sturdiest casserole pan. Add a small to medium chopped white onion and 4 or 5 sage leaves and fry for a few minutes.
Toss a couple of bulky handfuls of diced braising steak (I always ask my butcher to cut it for me – it seems to take ages at home, and I’ve learned now to ask for more meat than I think I need, which isn’t a problem as these are pretty cheap cuts) in a little seasoned flour, then add it to the pan with several halved new potatoes, a diced turnip, a fatly-julienned carrot and the same of a parsnip or two. Any other root vegetables you have (or fancy) can also go in.
Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, close to half a bottle of leftover red wine and about a litre of good stock, or enough to just cover the contents of the pot. Gently stir together, season with freshly ground black pepper and a little salt. Bring to the boil, place a lid on top, then cook in the preheated oven until the meat is tender. This can take between 3 and 4 hours, but as soon as you can pull apart the meat with a fork against the side of the pan, it’s done. The house will waft with amazing scents as it cooks.
Turn the oven on low until you’re ready to eat. Combine a few sprigs of both finely chopped rosemary and a clove of garlic in a ramekin with the zest of a quarter lemon. As you ladle the stew into warm bowls, sprinkle the blend over the hot stew and let the aromas bring it to life. Serve with a fresh bottle of red, crusty bread and a pearl barley salad. If you want to add extra guests to your table, spoon over some split jacket potatoes. There won’t be any leftovers, as you’ll have your friends returning to the pot through the meal with their spoons.