So, Stew Me
One sturdy cast-iron pot is all you really need to deliver a flavorful, piping-hot dinner right to the table.
The idea of putting supper in one pot, setting it in the oven, and walking away until the timer goes off isn't a novel one. But it's a pretty terrific system. We haven't had much luck getting a slow cooker to give us food with any flavor, but now that we both own handsome Le Creuset enameled cast-iron casseroles - Sheryl found them at T.J. Maxx for a bargain price - we've been cooking in them every night. Of course, any heavy-based pot with a tight-fitting lid will do. The juices are locked in, and the food is loaded with flavor. We make a vegetarian dish with whatever market produce looks good that day. Beef stew begins with a chuck roast that cooks to melting tenderness with Dijon mustard and tomatoes. Stewed chicken thighs make a simple dish that relies entirely on the poultry for flavor. Most nights, the pot goes directly to the table. Family members help themselves, and the cleanup crew has it easy.
Olive oil (for the pan and for sprinkling)
4 large carrots, thickly sliced
8 small red potatoes, halved
1 pound ready-peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/2 pound white mushrooms or shiitakes, stemmed and halved or quartered
1 bunch radishes, root ends trimmed
1/2 pound green beans, stem ends trimmed
1 large sweet onion, cut into 8 wedges
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Set the oven at 400 degrees. Lightly oil a heavy-based casserole (about 21/2-quart capacity).
Layer the vegetables in the pan. Add the carrots, potatoes, squash, mushrooms, radishes, green beans, and onion, sprinkling each layer with oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the stock or water into the pan at the sides.
Cover the pan and roast the vegetables for 11/2 hours, basting them several times with the juices in the pan, or until all the vegetables are tender.
Sprinkle the vegetables with parsley and serve.
BEEF AND TOMATO STEW
3 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 large Spanish onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups whole peeled canned tomatoes, crushed
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand a heavy-based casserole (about 4-quart capacity).
Place the beef in the casserole.
In a bowl, stir together the mustard, garlic, oregano, red pepper, salt, and black pepper. Rub the mixture all over the beef.
Tuck the onion and bell pepper around the meat. Pour the wine in at the sides.
In a bowl, combine the chicken stock, tomatoes, Worcestershire, and brown sugar. Pour it over the meat.
Cover and roast the meat and vegetables for 2 hours, turning halfway through cooking, or until a fork inserted in the beef comes out easily. Remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes.
Remove the meat from the pan and transfer it to a cutting board; cover and keep warm. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions and peppers to a deep serving platter. Cover the vegetables and keep warm.
With a large spoon, skim off and discard the fat on the surface of the cooking liquid. Set the pan on a burner and bring the liquid to a boil.
Slice the meat and transfer it to the serving platter. Spoon the cooking juices on top and serve at once.
STEWED CHICKEN THIGHS
1 pound (about 8) carrots, cut into thirds
2 onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 chicken thighs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups water
1 bay leaf
3 whole parsley stalks
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Set the oven at 375 degrees. Have on hand a heavy-based casserole (about 2 1/2-quart capacity).
Put the carrots and onions in the bottom of the casserole. Remove the skin and excess fat from the chicken. Fold the sides of the thighs under the bone to make neat edges. Set the thighs on the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water over the chicken. Tuck the bay leaf into the pan at the side. Lay the parsley stems on the thighs.
Set the pot over a medium-high burner and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover with the lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender.
Discard the parsley stalks. Divide the mixture among 4 deep plates, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve at once.
ASK THE COOK: Cold Play
Please settle a debate between my husband and me. He says always rinse pasta with cold water after cooking, so it doesn't stick together. I say I don't like cold pasta and that rinsing it doesn't do anything. Who's right?
REBECCA DELANEY /// Charlestown
Always boil pasta in plenty of salted water. The standard ratio is 6 quarts of water per pound of pasta. As the pasta cooks, some of its starch dissolves, causing the water to become cloudy. The more water, the less the concentration of starch, hence, nonstick pasta. However, I hope to promote marital harmony by saying you are both right. If you add the qualifier "when making a pasta salad," then your husband's technique is helpful. As pasta cools, the surface starch can make the noodles stick to one another. Rinsing will wash some starch from the surface and keep the pasta loose. Rinsing with cold water also will arrest the cooking process, or "shock" the pasta, so it does not become overdone. When preparing pasta to be served cold, pay close attention to the noodles, and drain and shock them while they are still a little undercooked, or al dente. Most pasta salads are tossed with dressing, which will turn overcooked pasta to mush.
When cooking pasta to be served hot, refrain from rinsing it. You might even add a little of the starchy cooking water to the finished sauce. Many cooks believe that the starch on the cooked pasta helps sauce adhere better. For that reason, I do not recommend adding oil to the cooking water. The oil will act like a nonstick coating, and all your sauce will end up in the bottom of the dish.
Answer by Peter J. Kelly, a chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University.