Slow cooking can be very sexy. Recipes that take a long time to cook and are thus ‘unfussy’ (i.e. do not require constant supervision), present an unassailable advantage: they leave you plenty of time to pamper yourself and get ready to look and feel good for the actual meal itself. The menu for this St Valentine’s that I am proposing is inspired by the Tuscan cuisine … and consists of (1) a meat stew called “peposo”, (2) a cannellini bean stew and (3) a side dish of spinach with raisins and pine kernels.
Take a look …
The beans … The spinach … The beef. Do notice that the saucepan in front and the stock pot behind it are made of clay or terracotta. They are ideal for slow cooking and can be used inside an oven or on the stove top.
Aside from the beef, you will need plenty of garlic, a lot of pepper corns as well as freshly milled pepper, and a bottle of red wine. Peposo being a Tuscan stew, I opted for a bottle of Chianti.
Place the chunks of beef in the saucepan and scatter a shower of peppercorns over them, and snuggle some cloves of garlic throughout. I used 9 cloves of garlic for 1.6g of beef. Drizzle a good amount of olive oil …. say 3 tablespoons or so … and massage the oil so that the beef is generously coated in it. Then add a very generous sprinkling of salt. Here is a close-up …. Pour as much wine as is required to cover all the meat … You get an idea of how much … keep this wine aside (don’t guzzle it!) because you might need some more later on down the cooking road.Cover the saucepan and turn the heat on. I didn’t have a large enough lid handy and so made do with some aluminium foil. The heat is low.
This is what the Peposo looked like after 1 hour of simmering. I covered it again with the make-do aluminium lid. And this is what it looked like after two hours of cooking. At this point I tasted it and decided to add a little bit of tomato paste. There is a wonderful Peposo recipe written by Frank Furiello (http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/03/03/peposo-peppery-tuscan-beef-stew/Peposo (Peppery Tuscan Beef Stew)) … in which he explains the origins of the dish and states why he likes to keep it “pre-Columbian” — i.e. without tomato.
I decided that I was a “post-Columbian” and had to add just a smidgeon of tomato paste. It tasted so much better straight away! I added a little bit more wine and, again, I placed the aluminium lid on it and cooked it for another half an hour. Total cooking time so far … two and a half hours. I switched the heat off and re-covered it at this point … because it was nowhere near dinner time yet and I wanted to serve it piping hot. This is what it looked like after having cooked (over a very low heat) for a further 20 minutes. Thus … total cooking time was almost 3 hours. I didn’t know who peppery people liked their stew, so I told the dinner guests to add their own twists of pepper according to their personal taste.
CANNELLINI BEAN STEW
This was the first time I cooked dry cannellini beans WITHOUT soaking them overnight. I read somewhere that this was possible and so gave it a try. They took about the same time as the meat to cook, two and a half hours in all.
The recipe couldn’t be easier. Place the beans in a stock pot, cover with plenty of water, plenty, add a few cloves of garlic and some sage leaves, as well as a small drizzle of olive oil. NO salt. The salt must be added only at the end. Turn the heat on (fairly low) and wait for the water to reach simmering point … you will notice that the beans rise to the surface. At this point, cover the pot. Take a look every now and then … to make sure that the water level is still quite high. Add a bit more water if required. When the beans were ready … I added some more fresh sage leaves … And some salt. If you were to serve the beans straight away, you would now mill some pepper. As it was, we didn’t eat the beans until a few hours later and waited until then. Add the pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil just before serving.
SPINACH with raisins and pine kernels
This might have been the ‘hardest’ recipe … if only because it takes for bloody ever to wash and trim fresh spinach leaves. Labour of love. This being a blog, I have placed the spinach recipe at the end of the post … but in actual real life fact, I began my session by cooking the spinach FIRST … and getting it out of the way. Bring a large pot of water to boiling point and add LOTS of salt … Throw in the spinach … and let it wilt for about 1-2 minutes …. Remove the spinach and place in a basin with plenty of cold water. The drain and set aside. Squeeze the spinach, gently but exerting some pressure nevertheless. Set aside. Just minutes before serving at table, pour some oil into a saucepan, add a couple of garlic cloves. Sauté until golden then add the pine kernels and a handful of raisins that have steeped in red wine for 10 minutes at least. Add the spinach and cook for a couple of minutes. Sprinkle salt and serve.It may not look like much but it tastes wonderful and is a natural complement to the meat.
So … what do you say? Have I convinced you? Mm? Maybe not … maybe for another time. But believe me, this is the kind of slow cooking you will really enjoy when you have people over to dinner and don’t want to get your knickers in a twist over the food. The irony is that … Life is too short to eschew slow cooking!