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La Belle Cuisine - More Beef Recipes

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John Ash's Grandmother's Beef Stew



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"Beef is the soul of cooking."
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Viansa Winery, Sonoma Valley, California, USA
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La Belle Cuisine

My Grandmother’s Beef Stew

Chef John Ash
Cooking From the Heart:
100 Great American Chefs
Share Recipes They Cherish icon

Copyright 2003 by Michael J. Rosen
and Share Our Strength


“As I grow older, I become more and more focused on this environmental predicament we face of cultivating, sustaining and renewing our food sources.
How can food be plentiful enough without being poisoned? Our health depends
on the health of the things we eat. The seeds for my concerns were planted when
I was a child. As I think back on my first experiences of sharing or making food – those first sentient encounters – I see how much they can frame our lives. They
don’t always, but they have that capacity. Where else do our passions and soap-
boxes come from? Witnessing so much change can make you an activist.
Comparatively late in life, after he’d served in World War II, my father decided
to become a physician. But first he had to obtain his undergraduate degree. So
during those years of study I lived with my grandparents on a cattle ranch in
Salida, Colorado, which was then a rather rural area. We were essentially poor
mountain folk, but the richness of that place – the physical richness – was what
I perceived. The geography of those mountains, the streams my grandfather
fished, the gardens my grandmother tended – it all provided for a healthy way
of life. And while I had no concept of this at the time, I now see that they
practiced biodynamic farming on their ranch.
My grandparents were great observers, with a kind of ‘Farmer’s Almanac’
wisdom. How and when the chickens would lose their feathers indicated the
changing weather. The precise colors of some tree’s turning leaves hinted at
how soon cold weather was coming. They had such sensitivity to the natural
Even though I was elementary-school age, one of my chores was to help my grandmother cook for the ten or twelve farmhands. She almost never used
what she called ‘receipts.’ She made cakes without measuring – she just had
a feel for the texture of each dough or mixture. (And at that altitude, baking
can be a real issue, especially using a wood-burning stove.)
Of course, what I wanted was to be out on the other range, where all the men
were, but I did like cooking with her, which involved big lunchtime meals con-sisting of many dishes. (Supper, which we ate later in the evening, was much
simpler, like soup or stew or some leftovers.)
…Her ‘receipt’ for beef stew circled back to me as an adult. I may not have all
the ingredients right, but her beef stew continues to be one of my most requested
recipes. She used lots of red wine making this; where this European notion came
from so many years ago, way out there in the Colorado hills, I don’t know. But
she always had wine for special occasions or for Sunday dinners, which rein-
forced the specialness of gathering together. She would pour me some, too,
watered down a bit.
This recipe is a variation of an ancient Italian recipe called ‘peposo’, which is so
named because it uses a lot of pepper. It’s a very simple recipe. What’s seductive
about it is the longer you wait, the more delicious it becomes. Slower cooking
breaks down collagen in the meat, making it even more succulent. And the long
cooking mellows the black pepper. Start this in the morning and your house will
smell delicious the entire day, making you hungrier and hungrier. If you still
have a slow cooker, now is the time to drag it out!
Traditionally this was served over day-old crusty bread topped with the braising
liquid. You could also serve it with roasted potatoes, polenta, or pasta.”

Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 pounds lean boneless stewing beef,
cut into 2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
16 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons freshly cracked (not ground)
black pepper or to taste
4 cups canned diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups hearty red wine such as
Cabernet or Zinfandel
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Egg noodles, polenta, or roasted potatoes,
as an accompaniment
1 recipe Gremolata (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
2. Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Heat the oil in a large nonreactive Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium-high heat. Brown the meat in
several small batches. Drain the fat and return all the meat to the pot.
Add the garlic, pepper, tomatoes, wine and basil and cover with a
tight-fitting lid.
3. Place the covered pot in the oven for 8 to 10 hours. (Alternately, keep
the pot on the stove over very low heat, simmering very gently. Check
occasionally; if the liquid begins to boil away, add a little wine or water
and turn down the heat.) Cook until the meat is very tender.
4. Transfer the meat to a deep platter or tray and keep warm. Degrease
the cooking liquid if needed and add salt to taste. Return the meat to
the hot braising liquid. Reheat over medium heat before serving.

* Accompany the stew with buttered wide egg noodles, polenta, or
roasted potatoes. Place any of these in deep soup bowls, ladling
the stewed meat on top. Sprinkle the Gremolata over all.


Makes about 1/2 cup
3 large garlic cloves
1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Place the garlic in a food processor and chop finely. Add the parsley and lemon zest and pulse to finely chop it all. Be careful not to turn it into a
paste. It should be light and airy. Add salt to taste. Alternately, grind the
ingredients in the order given with a mortar and pestle.

 John Ash is the founder of John Ash & Co. restaurant in Sonoma County.
His three books are
‘American Game Cooking icon
'From the Earth to the Table: John Ash's Wine Country Cuisine icon
(winner of the Julia Child Cookbook of the Year Award in 1996), and
‘John Ash: Cooking One on One icon’...
He is culinary director for Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino County and
travels the world teaching about the joys of marrying food and wine.


Note: This rich, earthy recipe calls for a wine with deep earth flavors that
also can stand up to the pepper. It’s a classic definition of the flavors of
a young California Cabernet or Zinfandel.

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Gigi's Beef Ragout

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