What with one thing and another, I've made many a stew in my life. I've made them with venison, gently simmered on a home range with port and redcurrant jelly; I've made them with cheap cuts of meat in a handle-free wok on an open fire; I've made them savoury and moreish, with spring lamb in a heavy cast iron cauldron.
And then I went and became a vegetarian. Oh noes! No more stew for me.
Until last night! My more-than-usually-intelligent boyfriend, having come up with the idea of a vegetable casserole for dinner, generously allowed me to help him in preparing the following feast:
- 250gr baby potatoes, washed and halved
- 2 large carrots, cut into rounds
- 1 large leek, sliced
- 3 small parsnips, sliecd
- 4 small turnips, peeled and sliced
- 2 celery sticks, sliced
- 1 large onions, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, whole
- 100gr baby chestnut mushrooms
- 1 large sprig each of thyme and sage
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 litre vegetable stock
- 1.5 heaped tbsp plain flour
- 3tbsp vegetable oil
- salt and pepper
- Heat the oil in a large heavy pan (a stock pot or casserolewould have worked just as fine), and fried the onions on a high heat, stirring frequently to stop them burning, until they were fairly browned and beginning to give off that amazing fried onion smell. This is the only part of the operation that is at all tricky: one has to keep a good eye on the onions, because browning them like this gives the gravy depth as well as colour, but we defo didn't want to burn them or the whole stew would have had an undersirable acrid note.
- When the onions are just getting to the perfectly brown stage, we sprinkled over the flour and mixed vigorously to create a primitive kind of roux. This helped the gravy to thicken.
- Next we added every other ingredient except for the mushrooms and seasoning (it's never wise to put much salt in anything without tasting when you're using stock cubes or powder, because those tend to be quite salty - we checked the seasoning later). Since the liquid didn't quite cover the veg, we topped it up with just a little bit of water from the kettle.
- We put the timer on for an hour and went and had the rest of that wine.
- The hour being up, we bunged in the mushrooms and checked the seasoning, adding a little salt and lots and lots of freshly ground pepper. Timer went back on for 20-30 minutes (I can't remember which!).
- Ta da! Hot bowls, hunks of crusty cottage loaf, and the most moreish, richest, savouriest stew you could wish for. If I had been blind testing this I would not have known that it was not made with beef; and FrankThomas, who is not a vegetarian normally, concurred.
Try it, and let me know what you think. Enjoy!