stew and polenta
It´s still cold and windy here so I made my favourite stew this weekend. Lea at n.com has recommended Teresa Lust´s Pass the Polenta for me and I remember reading the first chapter on Amazon. Teresa Lust is telling us the story about how her parents met and how her father was liked and accepted by her mother´s Italian family after his second and third helping of this particular stew.
I fell in love with the story immediately and I wanted to try this dish so badly that I ordered the book at once. As soon as it arrived, I cooked the stew and it has been a staple in my house ever since. There are 14 recipes in the book and this is obviously not a cookbook - it´s more like Ruth Reichl´s or Laurie Colwin´s writings - but my favourite is still the stew and polenta.
I have a special "relationship" to polenta. My grandmother used to cook polenta every day (!) for more than 60 years as my grandfather loved it. He sat by the kitchen table and as the church bell struck noon my granny was serving him his polenta with cold milk or buttermilk. My father loved polenta too and eventually I grew to love this soft, comforting, happy-yellow dish too.
Every time I have this stew, I can´t help thinking of Ms Lust´s story. That, in combination with the tin bowls - like the ones my grandmother used to have - the whole meal turns into a nostalgia evening. It feels like all of her family and mine were sitting around the table, and that is so much nicer than having a meal by myself. This time I had my mother as company and although she is not too keen on polenta, she loved it served with cheese and stew.
In case you decide to read the story and you do get the urge to reproduce this warm and homey stew, here is the recipe.
Stew and Polenta
for the stew
2 pounds/900g chuck roast or other stewing meat, trimmed and cut into chunks
2-3 tbsp oil or rendered fat from the meat
1 large onion, cut into thick crescents (I often use 2)
4-5 small cloves of garlic, peeled and slivered
1 bay leaf
1 good pinch each of oregano, thyme and rosemary
1 glass of red wine
16-ounce jar of canned tomatoes, roughly cut, including their liquid (this is 2 cups or 500ml)
2-3 stalks of celery, including their leaves, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
quartered mushrooms, 1 cup/250ml or so, optional (made both with and without the mushrooms, but I preferred it with, as it gave the stew a more rustic taste)
1 turnip, pealed and sliced, optional (sometimes I use parsnip or a chunk of celeriac)
salt and pepper to taste
Dredge the pieces of meat in flour. Heat the oil in a heavy stewpot, add the meat and cook over medium heat until the pieces are browned on all sides.
Stir in the onion, garlic, bay leaf and herbs and continue cooking until the onion is translucent.
Add the vine and tomatoes, and let the stew simmer slowly, covered, for about two hours.
Check the pot occasionally and add water if the liquid has evaporated.
Toward the end of the cooking time, stir in the remaining vegetables and continue braising gently until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper. Can be made ahead and reheated.
for the polenta
1 cup/250ml polenta
4 cups/1 liter cold water
salt and pepper
a few handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Stir water, polenta and 1 tsp salt together in a heavy saucepan. Place over a low flame and stir slowly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot to keep the polenta from sticking. Cook until the mixture thickens and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the pot, and the cornmeal feels tender on the tongue, 30-40 minutes. Stir in the cheese.
Add freshly ground pepper (I never do that) and more salt, if needed, to taste.
to assemble and serve at table
Put thin slices of mozzarella and Gorgonzola cheeses on a serving plate. (Gruyére, fontina or Roquefort work well in this dish, too) Place the cheese plate on the table, along with the pot of stew and the dish of polenta. Diners serve themselves by spooning a mound of polenta onto their plate, followed by slices of the assorted cheeses and spoonfuls of stew.