Monday, March 30, 2009

Bowl Food


Tonight was meat-night. You might wonder what that means.

Well, a few weeks ago I decided the reduce our meat consumption and instead increase all things grainy. We now have red meat and poultry once a week and the rest is made up of pulses, grains, tofu and fish. It has really made me plough through mountains of cookbooks and visit numerous websites to come up with yummy recipes that everyone would eat without complaining that there was no meat.

Well, they are still asking, but at the same time enjoying a great variety of foods. It has also brought a new creativity to my cooking. It may require a bit more planning but its well worth the effort. It is a joy to see the kids tuck into healthy food and know they'll grow up knowing all about chickpea curries, pearl barley risottos, brown rice and tofu. It is not so much that it is healthy, it is the variety, the culinary curiosity they'll develop in the long run.

But back to meat-night. I defrosted some chuck steak from Fernleigh Farm and dug out another old favorite cookbook of mine "Bowl Food - The new comfort food for people on the move".
I love looking through this dense and unassuming little book but I can't remember the last time I cooked something out of it. So tonight was the night: Italian beef casserole with polenta dumplings.
It did sound promising but casseroles are something I can cook blindfolded. How many different ways can one cook a beef stew? It was the dumplings that made me follow this recipe to a t' and the result was nice but without the wow-factor. There are several changes I would make to the recipe. For starters, the polenta dumplings completely disintegrated in the sauce. Next time, I would cool the cooked polenta on a baking tray, cut it in wedges and grill it with some Parmesan on top. The casserole would then be served on top of a bed of crunchy polenta. But without further ado, have a look at the recipe from Bowl Food

Italian beef casserole with polenta dumplings

2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbs plain flour
1kg blade or chuck steak, cut into 3cm cubes
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 tbs chopped fresh oregano
2x 424g cans tomatoes
2 red capsicums, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
2/3 cup instant polenta
1/3 cup ready-made pesto

Preheat oven to slow 150C. Heat the oil in a 4 liter flameproof casserole dish, add the onion and garlic, and cook over medium heat for 8 minutes, or until soft but not brown. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir well. Add the beef, stock, oregano, tomato, and capsicum, season and simmer for 15 minutes, then bake, covered, for 1 hour 30 minutes.
Place 300mi water in a saucepan, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer. Pour in the polenta in a thin stream, season and cook, stirring , for 2 minutes, or until it thickens and comes away from the side of the pan. Remove and cool.

Shape the cooled polenta into 12 round dumplings, place on top of the casserole and bake, covered for 1 hour , and then uncovered for 20-30 minutes. Garnish with the pesto and serve.

And here are my suggested changes:

I would fry the onion and garlic with some added diced carrot and cellery. Then add the beef with a cup or so of red wine. Then only I would add the flour, stock and all the rest. I just like to make a "soffritto" for any casserole dish, be it ossobuco or a beef stew.
Regarding the polenta dumplings as I said above, cook the corn as instructed and spread it hot on an oiled baking dish. When cooled and the casserole is 15min away from being ready, cut the polenta in circles or wedges, sprinkle generously with parmesan and some butter and grill until golden.
Serve on plates and ladle casserole on top. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and some pesto if you whish.

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