Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices continued…

In Recipes on August 25, 2017 at 4:27 am

With such a cold winter this year I have been exploring the world of stewing and slow cooking in depth. Stews are the perfect winter fare as I find the pot burbling away on the stove gives and illusion of warmth and comfort that, combined with a good heater, makes me feel as if winter were merely a bad dream.

‘Stifado’ or ‘stifatho’ appears to mean a stew with onions in Greek. The traditional version is made with rabbit or beef but I have seen recipes for octopus and other meats. In my case I made it with cubed lamb shoulder but you could substitute beef or any other meat you have available.

Lamb Stifado

Lamb Stifatho


1kg diced lamb shoulder

1/4 cup olive oil

150g baby onions

3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

125 ml red wine

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

1-2 tbs red wine vinegar (to taste)

2 tbs tomato puree

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chopped flat leaf parsley to finish


Cut the meat into bite sized cubes. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based casserole dish. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add the meat and stir over high heat until the meat is well browned. Add the garlic, wine, spices, bay leaf, vinegar, tomato paste and lightly season. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Return the onions to the pan and cook for a further 1/2 hour or until the meat is very tender. Discard the cinnamon and stir through the flat leaved parsley. You may also want to finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve with rice or mashed potato.

Hint: For a richer flavour use 1 cup of beef stock and 1 cup of red wine instead of the wine and water listed in the recipe.


Lamb stifado


Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices

In Recipes on July 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

Dishes that incorporate all ingredients in the one pot for long, slow cooking have been popular almost since cooking began. Simmering ingredients slowly in a broth or a sauce retains the nutrients and extracts maximum flavour from the dish’s components. If using meat the cook can use the cheaper cuts that respond well to an extended cooking time making these kinds of dishes economical too. In the past, particularly in parts of Europe, flavourings and ingredients such as onions, garlic, spices, herbs and meats were often in short supply or prohibitively expensive to all but a small proportion of the population so, if poorer people had these ingredients, they wanted to extract the maximum flavour and nutrition. In other words, like many other of the world’s great dishes, stews, ragus and braises originated in the homes of peasant cooks.

I have been reading The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black. It is interesting to see that, contrary to modern perceptions, medieval cooks were endlessly inventive and that many of the dishes they made are not markedly different from the dishes we cook today. Here is part of a recipe for lamb or mutton stew: ‘Take veel or other[wise] motoun and smyte it into gobettes. Seeth it in good broth; cast thereto erbes-yhewe gode won, and a quantite of oynouns mynced, powdour fort and safroun …. seeth until they be tendre’ OR ‘Cut the meat into 5-cm/2-inch cubes. Put the stock into a stewpan and bring to the boil … then add the prepared onions, herbs, spices and wine. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and cook gently until the meat cubes are cooked through and tender.’ The method described here, apart from maybe browning the meat and onions prior to stewing, is pretty similar to modern techniques and I do love it when I get to ‘smyte my meat into gobettes’.

With the renewed popularity of slow cookers or crockpots stews and braises are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. Boeuf bourgignonne, otherwise known as beef burgundy, is a peasant dish from the Burgundy region in France. Coming from this part of the country, an area that is famous for its wine, the dish naturally includes a good amount of red wine. Originally, the meat was marinated in red wine to tenderise it. The cook could then use cheaper cuts of meat and still achieve good results. Stews are often better the next day and boeuf bourgignonne is no exception. Leftovers can be made into a delicious pie with some puff pastry or topped with garlicky mashed potato to make a sort of gourmet cottage pie. I make mine from a recipe that I have carried in my head for many years but the one I have given you here, while very similar to mine, is based on a recipe by Gabriel Gate.

Boeuf Bourgignonne

Boeuf Bourgignonne


800g oyster blade or chuck steak

1 medium brown onion (thinly sliced)

2 French shallots (thinly sliced)

2 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 thyme sprig or 1 rosemary sprig

300ml red wine

3 tbs olive oil


freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons butter

1 tbs plain flour

125g bacon (finely chopped)

16 baby onions OR 3 brown onions cut into thin slices

25 small mushrooms OR 5 large flat or portobello mushrooms sliced into largish pieces

4 tbs chopped parsley

Onions, bacon,mushrooms


The day before you cook the dish, trim the beef of excess fat and sinew and cut it into 4-6 pieces. Place in a bowl with the onion, shallots, garlic and thyme or rosemary. Cover with wine and stir in 1 tbs of olive oil.

The following day lift the meat, onion, garlic and shallots from the wine and place on a cloth to dry. Reserve the wine and the herbs as well. Season the meat with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (275 degrees F)

Heat 1 tbs of the oil in an ovenproof casserole dish and brown the meat on all sides. Add the butter to the pan, followed by the reserved onion, shallots and garlic, stir well. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to coat the meat. Add the reserved wine and the reserved herbs and stir well. Cover with a lid and cook for about two hours in the oven or on the stove top on a gentle simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan and saute the bacon over a medium heat for a few minutes. Remove the bacon and set aside. Add the baby onions and brown well all over. Remove the onions, set aside and cook the mushrooms in the same pan for 2 minutes.

Towards the end of the 2 hours, add the bacon, onions and mushrooms to the casserole and return to the oven or stove top for a further 20 – 30 minutes.

*I tend to let my boeuf bourgignonne simmer for a bit longer, about 2 and a half to 3 hours for the first stage and then a further half hour to 40 minutes after you have added the bacon, onions and mushrooms.

Serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Serves 4

Note: If making this recipe in a slow cooker you may need to adjust the times accordingly. You could let the first stage go in the slow cooker while you are out and then add the bacon, onions and mushrooms when you get home.

If you do not have time to marinate the meat overnight in the wine, a couple of hours in the marinade will still yield good results.

Pasticcio ticks all the boxes: tasty, easy, versatile and cheap.

In Recipes on May 27, 2017 at 4:06 am

Pasticcio or Pastichio is an Italian dish that roughly translates as ‘pasta bake’. There is also a Greek version called Pastisio that is very similar but includes some Greek flavours in the meat sauce and egg yolks in the bechamel sauce. Whatever the origin of this dish is it has always been a favourite of mine. As a child my mother used to make it often using bolognese sauce, bechemal sauce, shell pasta or penne and lots of grated cheese. She also did another version with bolognese sauce and instead of bechemal she used quark, a tangy firm variety of cottage cheese that is of Eastern European origin. Both versions were then topped with grated cheese and baked in the oven until bubbling and golden brown.

For my mother, I think pasticcio was a way of using up leftover bolognese sauce and even cold pasta if she had made a large amount. I use it in the same way, making a large batch of bolognese sauce, freezing half of it for future use and incorporating the other half into a pasta bake. I also make a variety of other pasta bakes that don’t use bolognese sauce. For a vegetarian version you can use roasted pumpkin, red capsicum and whole roasted garlic cloves, sauteed leek, chopped spinach and parsley. You just fold these ingredients through the cooked pasta with the bechamel sauce and the grated cheese in the same way you would if using the bolognese sauce, I then top with more grated cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs and bake in a moderate oven.

Bolognese Pasta Bake

18527745_710751995716390_2592186751028983384_n Pasta Bake 4

For the Bolognese Sauce:


750g veal and pork mince or lean beef mince (preferably Halal)

1 large brown onion (chopped)

1 large carrot (chopped)

2-3 stalks celery (chopped)

3-4 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

150g finely sliced button mushrooms (optional)

2 rashers chopped bacon (optional)

1-2 tbs tomato paste

1 x 400 g can Italian diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/2 a cinnamon stick

2 fresh or dried bay leaves

olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp sugar (optional)

18581576_710201105771479_4506964414864886524_n Celery, carrot and onion


Heat a large cast iron casserole dish to medium heat. Add a little olive oil and brown the meat, breaking it up with a spoon as you fry. When browned, remove from the casserole and set aside. Add a little more oil and gently fry the celery, carrot and onion (mushrooms and bacon too, if using) until soft. Add the garlic, spices and dried herbs, fry for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and gently fry for a further 30 seconds, then add the diced tomatoes and gently fry for another minute. Add the meat back into the pot, bring to the boil and then reduce to a low simmer, Season with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar (if using). Cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.

18486429_710201205771469_1655803027041746648_n Bolognese

For the Bechemal Sauce:


2-3 tbs plain flour

2-3 tbs butter

300 ml milk (or more if needed)

freshly grated nutmeg

1 bay leaf

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and cook gently for a couple of mins to get rid of the floury taste, this is called a roux.  Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, until all the milk is used up and you have a smooth sauce.  Add bay leaf, nutmeg and seasoning.  Set aside.

For the Pasticcio:


Bechamel sauce

1/2 of the Bolognese sauce

300-350g rigatoni or penne pasta (cooked)

300g grated tasty cheese (I also often use a combination of mozzarella and kefalogravieria)

2 tbs freshly grated Parmesan

2 tbs Panko breadcrumbs

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano


In a large bowl mix together the cooked pasta, 2/3 of the bechamel sauce, 2/3 of the grated cheese, 1tbs of the Parmesan and 1/2 of the bolognese sauce. Brush a baking dish with olive oil and tumble the mixture in. Smooth it out until even then top with the rest of the bolognese sauce, the remaining bechemal sauce and the rest of the grated cheese. In a small bowl combine the other 1tbs of Parmesan, the Panko breadcrumbs and the dried herbs. Sprinkle over the top and drizzle with a little olive oil and bake in a preheated moderate (175-180 degrees) oven for about 30-40 mins or until golden brown and bubbling.

Pasta Bake

Bubbling and golden pasticcio