Monthly Archives: December 2008

Braised beef with celeriac mashed potatoes

Rain rain rain, it has been nearly two weeks now and it doesn’t look like stopping. The Tevere river looked ready to burst its banks on Saturday and the whole city is soggy and long faced. Anyone who knows Rome can probably imagine the lethal combination that is, abundant rain and an ancient city built on seven hills, yes, puddles of small lake-like proportions. The ancient cobbled streets which weave so enchantingly through the city are not so charming in this weather, they are slippy fellas, capable of taking out a motorino, ankle, old lady or clumsy english girl quicker than I can eat a chocolate truffle (and that is quick). If you know any Romans, you can probably imagine how utterly horrified and vocal they are at the very unRoman weather.

As well as my bruised ‘cobble fall’ posterior, I am also soggy and long faced, but I do have a very good recipe for you.

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This beef is the unquestioned star of my recent braising phase. The well marbled flank simmered away in red wine and stock with bay leaves, cloves and onions did have a decided advantage in the braising stakes in that it is something I remember sentimentally and mouth-wateringly from my childhood, thus it has a deep rooted ability to comfort and reassure me.

This is David Tanis’s recipe from his book ‘A platter of figs‘, a book I have been longing to own, I now do and it exceeds all my extremely high expectations, it is a perfectly formed little masterpiece of a book, the man rocks my cooking world.

The recipe is perfectly simple, you need patience, if fact, ideally you need 3 days. Yes, 3 days.

I kind of paused when I realised this, but the reality was quite lovely. I began cooking and seasoning on thursday, braised on friday and scraped and reduced on saturday morning, By saturday evening we had the most divine braised beef for dinner, a panful with a full deep roundness which had emerged while everything mellowed and wallowed for 2 days

It goes like this, a large flaken steak is well seasoned and left to rest overnight. The next day it is browned, so its juices caramelize, it is then simmered in stock, red wine with an onion, a large carrot, a stick of celery, bays leaves, cloves for about two and a half hours. During this time the meat becomes meltingly tender and the gravy deeply flavoured and complex. You allow the pan to cool overnight. The next day you can scrape the grease off and then remove the piece of meat while you strain the gravy and reduce it slightly to create an even thicker and richer gravy. Finally you reunite meat and gravy before allowing it to rest for a couple of hours. Once you are ready to eat you gently gently re-heat everything in the pan, Finally, you slice the beef thickly, plate up and spoon over a warm blanket of thick, rich gravy.

Please try this recipe, it is just plain fantastic, deeply satisfying to make and even more satisfying to eat. David Tanis suggests celeriac mashed potatoes to accompany the beef, I took his advice and can confidently agree with his very fine self that  it is a pretty glorious pair – in his words, ‘ a classic and mutually beneficial combination, celery root sweetens the potatoes and the potatoes lend a creaminess to the celeriac.’

I also made some braised lentils, not that we needed them, but, I am in a braising frame of mind and more importantly, we had a small Sicilian vegetarian in our midst.

You will have left overs, lucky you, you get to appreciate the meat after yet another day mellowing and wallowing, it will be even more delicious. You could also use up the celeriac mash  to make some some fried potato cakes to accompany it.

Braised beef with celeriac mashed potatoes.

serves 4 with leftovers

  • 1 kg peice of well marbled beef flank or 2 fat chuck steaks
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil or lard
  • 2tbsp good butter
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 6tbsp tomato paste
  • 200ml red wine
  • 1,5 litres chicken stock
  • 2 large onions peeled and halved
  • 1 large carrot peeled and cut in half
  • 1 stick celery cut in half
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sprig of thyme
  • about 5 cloves.

Celeriac mash

  • 1 celery root (about 700g grams)
  • 1.5kg of starchy potatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 150g creme fraiche
  • 150ml whole milk
  • 150g good butter
  • handful of finely chopped celery leaves.

(thursday) Season the beef with plenty of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper and refrigerate overnight.

(friday) Allow the meat to reach room temperature and set the oven to 325°f or 160°c.

In a large heavy based pan, I use my large enameled le creuset, warm energetically about 1 inch of your lard or olive oil and then brown the meat very well over a medium-high heat, about 8minutes on each side. A good brown is essential for a good braise. remove the meat from the pan and set aside.

Pour away any remaining fat from the pan and return it to a low flame, Add the butter and flour, mixing well with a wooden spoon to encorporate the flour. Add the tomato paste, paprika and red wine, stir and then add the chicken stock, stir and then bring to a gentle boil.

Add the meat, onion, bay leaves, thyme, cloves, carrot and celery to the pan and then, finally, the meat. Bring the pan back to a gentle boil and then slide the pan in to the oven for 2 and a half hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight.

(saturday morning) The next day you will have a layer of greasy fat on top of the braise, remove the meat carefully and set aside. Scrape off the layer of fat and then strain the sauce. Over a happy flame bring the sauce to a fast boil and allow it to reduce and thicken.

Reunite the meat with the sauce and allow to rest until you are nearly ready to eat.

(saturday night) Reheat. slowly, slowly, the meat in its sauce, remove the meat to a carving board and cut into thick slices.

Give each person a slice, a good spoonful of gravy and a genorous serving of celeriac mashed potatoes

Celeriac mashed potatoes

Peel the celeriac and potatoes and cut them both into 2″ chunks.

Put the chunks in a large heavy bottomed pan and cover with cold water and set aside.

About an hour before you are ready to eat, add salt to the water and bring the pan to a lively boil, boil the vegetables for 15 – 20mins or until the celeriac root is soft and the potatoes easily pierce with a knife point.

Drain the vegetables in a large colander and reserve a cup of cooking water.

Put the empty pan back on a low flame (it will still be warm,) add the milk, allow it to warm a little and then tip the vegetables back in the pan. Remove the pan from the heat and mash the potatoes with a hand masher. Add the creme fraiche, celery leaves, butter and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, beat everything together.

Put the pan back on a low heat, stir well and add a little of the reserved cooking water if you think the mixture is too thick.

Serve alongside the meat


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Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion

I think we may need to install some kind of heating in our flat, the monstrously thick walls and tile floors which keep it so cool during the searingly hot Roman summers are still doing a marvellous job at keeping our tiny home very cool indeed. Only problem, it is not August, nor is it 30° c, but proving a rather chilly un Roman December. At home my hands are a funny colour, kind of blue, shivering is the norm and Vincenzo was wearing a woolly hat in bed the other night – the time has come.

So while we get our act together and sort out some kind of heat source, we need to be resourceful in our chilly home, woolly hats are an option, as are fingerless gloves, double socks, my silk longjohns (a much loved and well worn gift from my Mum,) hot water bottles, the odd bout of passionate heated swearing in Italian and my personal favorite, plenty of long slow cooking. Gas bills – boh, who cares, our little cooker is well and truly alive and kicking, providing a bold little flame for almost daily stews, soups, braises and roasts. I am sure this is far from the most cost effective way to heat a flat, but it is a mighty fine one as far I am concerned. Not only does the little fella provide a steady stream of heat but a seductively aromatic one at that, ‘what smell would you like with todays heating madam, a clementine cake,braised beef, no, how about a little aromatic braised red cabbage?’

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The braised red cabbage I made on friday was a particularly pleasing blast of warmth into the kitchen, our spirits and finally our stomachs. Vincenzo was initially suspicious and slightly put out we were not having pasta despite the fact we had eaten it all week (the man is Sicilian, he can’t get enough of the stuff.) He remained suspicious right up to the point I brought the steaming pan to the table and heaped a modest spoonful next to his mashed potato (Vincenzo is a vegetable..I mean vegetarian, so did not partake in sausages like the rest of us….good, more for the rest of us.) Suspicion melted away like an icecream on a hot August day, seconds and thirds, of slightly less modest proportions ensued, accompanied by those little pleasurable noises Italians make -and sniffy people disapprove of – when they eat something they like.

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I am rather devoted to this, the inimitable Nigella Lawson’s recipe for Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion. Aside from the superb name (you have to love something cooked in the Viennese fashion) it is simply a great recipe, deliciously warming and meltingly tender, slowly braised cabbage, emerging with pleasing fruitiness, jammy and creamy notes which are beautifully balanced by the acidic presence of the red wine vinegar. I can be very particular about sweet and sour and too much jammy sweetness in my savory food, but this recipe works beautifully.

We ate the cabbage with some fine, fat, meaty pork sausages and creamy mashed potato - a devilishly good plateful on a cold December night. The sausages simply grilled and straightforward mash provided good honest sidekicks for the rich aromatic cabbage. This cabbage also works brilliantly with roast pork and roast potatoes or even better roast goose or duck. A slightly more everyday use is heaped high on a baked potato.

Like so many slow cooked and braised foods, this recipe is much better made the day before or at least the morning before, it can be gently re-heated on the stove top.

Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s book How to Eat.

  • A large red cabbage
  • a large spanish onion
  • 50g butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of soft brown muscavado sugar
  • a large cooking apple
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 100ml red wine
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tablespoon plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream.

Cut the cabbage into quarters, discard the outer leaves, cut away the hard central core and shred each quarter finely. I prefer to do this by hand but then I have no alternative.

Peel and slice the onion finely. In a large, deep heavy based pan, gently melt the butter and oil over a moderate flame and add the sliced onion. Saute the onion until it is soft and translucent and just starting to colour.

Add the sugar to the onion and stir well. Add the cabbage to the pan and stir well to coat all the cabbage.

Quarter the apple, core but do not peel, chop it into little chunks and add to the pan, stir again.

Add the vinegar to the pan , stir, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and cover. Cook over the moderate flame for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 150°

After 15 mins add the water and red wine and put the pan in the oven to simmer away for for 2 hours.

After two hours remove the pan from the oven and put back on the stove over a very low flame.

Stir the flour into the cremefraiche or sour cream to make a paste you are going to add this to the cabbage to thicken it slightly. Add a spoonful of the paste to the pan, keep stirring and then add another spoonful, stir and add the final spoonful, keep stirring for about 5 mins.

Remove from the heat, taste to see if you need to add anymore sugar or vinegar to have the right sweet sour balance, or to stop the cream cloying – be subtle though.

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Clementine cake

I could bore you with stories of dead computers, yes, that is a plural, the quite extraordinary and enfuriating antics of Telecom Italia and rain so thick, pummeling and relentless I dreamed of building an arc, but I think you might prefer a nice cake instead, I know I would.p1010831

Munching my way through my 4th clementine the other day, my fingers sticky with citrus oil, pondering a 5th and mindlessly appreciating the startling orange happiness the bowlful before me was offering to an otherwise grey grey day, I remembered this cake. Somehow, It got forgotten last year, but normally it’s something I make as soon as I spy the crates of vibrant orange balls with shiny dark green leaves arrive at the market and there is a sniff of christmas in the air.

I think this is without a doubt one of the nicest cakes ever.

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It is Nigella Lawsons recipe from her book ‘How to Eat’ ( her best book.) It doesn’t contain flour or fat, simply clementines, ground almonds, caster sugar and eggs. The resulting cake is simple and beautiful, flecked with orange, delightfully moist, dense yet with lightness and tantilizingly aromatic. It is good freshly made but another thing all together after one or two days wrapped in foil, its flavours intensify and it becomes even more deliciously moist and fragrant.

This cake has lovely sniff of christmas about it, clementines, almonds, but only a gentle, subtle one, which suits me, as I personally don’t want anything more than a sniff of christmas on the first of December (I am resolute in avoiding the christmas silly season which seems to start earlier each year.)

It is perfectly simple to make, you need a little patience while the clementines simmer away for a couple of hours, but you are rewarded for it by the most delightful, sweet scent pervading your kitchen. Once the clementines are soft, you halve them, de-seed them and then pulp everything, skin, pith, fruit before mixing together with 6 eggs, ground almonds, sugar and a generous teaspoon of baking powder.

I like this cake with a big blob of creme fraiche or even better Barbados cream, a mixture of heavy cream, greek yogurt and dark, soft muscavado sugar. It is very nice with a cup of tea while you write your christmas cards, that is allowed on the 1st of december, especially when you live with the antics of Posta Italia.

Clementine Cake

  • 4 – 5 clementines (about 375g total weight)
  • 6 eggs
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 250g ground almonds
  • 1 generous teaspoon of baking powder.

Put the clementines in a pan and cover with cold water, bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to a lively simmer. Leave the clementines bobbing away for 2 hours.

Drain and cool the clementines. Once cool enough to handle, cut the clementines in half and remove the pips and then mash everything, skin, pith, fruit into a pulp.

Heat the oven to 190° and butter and line a 21cm cake tin.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the sugar, ground almonds and baking powder and stir everthing together with a metal spoon.

Fold the clementine pulp carefully but firmly into the other ingredients using a metal spoon.

Pour the mixture into the lined cake tin and bake for about 50mins to 1 hour, when a skewer comes out clean. You may need to cover the cake with baking parchment or foil for the last 20mins if looks like the top is browning too quickly.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin. When he cake is cool, take it out of the tin.

The cake is without a doubt better after 1 or 2 days.

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