Autumn is my favourite time of the year for baking. The cooler mornings and the late afternoon chill in the air make me want to tuck myself away into the kitchen and bake all day with a hot stove to warm the house. Images of thick soups, hearty casseroles and steaming puddings float into my mind, displacing summer's BBQs, salads and ice-cream. Autumn also seems more inspiring for the food magazines, as the latest issues have the most gorgeous pictorial spreads of autumn feasts.
The best thing about casseroles is the minimum effort required to transform a simple mix of vegetables and chunks of the cheaper cuts of meat into a glossy, bubbling cauldron of goodness. Most casserole recipes require you to bung everything together into a cast-iron casserole dish and cook it for several hours in a moderate oven, meaning that dinner can cook while you get on with other jobs or relaxing with a glass of wine. Leftovers mean that tomorrow's lunch or dinner is also taken care of.
Delicious magazine features a good selection of casserole recipes each season. This week Adam reminded me of a Jamie Oliver stew made with Newcastle brown ale that we ate several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed, so I dug out the July 2004 issue and refreshed my memory. This is an easy casserole to make and is hearty enough to satisfy you on even the coldest winter night. Don't be put off by the amount of beer - although it smells overwhelmingly beery when you first start cooking, the liquid simmers down over time to become a thick sauce with just a hint of a hops undertone. It makes an enormous quantity and I find that I have to cook it in two separate casserole pots, as I don't have one big enough to fit the whole lot in.
JAMIE OLIVER'S BEEF STEW WITH NEWCASTLE BROWN ALE AND DUMPLINGS
1kg shin of beef (or use flank or neck), cut into 5cm chunks
2 Tb (1/4 cup) flour
olive oil, for frying
3 red onions, roughly sliced
50g pancetta or bacon, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
leaves of 1 small handful rosemary
1.3L Newcastle brown ale (about four bottles - use other brown ale if you can't get this)
2 parsnips, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
4 potatoes, peeled, roughly chopped
1 1/3 cups (200g) self-raising flour
100g unsalted butter, chopped
2 sprigs rosemary, leaves chopped
Place beef on a plate, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with the flour and toss around until well coated. Heat a large frypan over high heat until it is good and hot, add a little oil and fry the beef in two batches until nice and brown.
Transfer the meat to a large casserole dish, mixing in the flour that was left on the plate after coating it. Put the casserole on medium heat, add the onions and pancetta, and cook until the onions are translucent and the pancetta has a bit of colour. Add celery and rosemary. Pour in the Newcastle brown ale and 285ml water, adding parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Bring to the boil, put on a lid, then turn down the heat to low and leave it to simmer while you make the dumplings.
To make the dumplings, blitz all the ingredients (with salt and pepper to taste) in a food processor, or rub between your fingers until you have a breadcrumb consistency, then add just enough water (about 1/4 cup) to make a dough that isn't sticky. Divide it into ping pong ball-sized dumplings and put these into the stew, dunking them under. Put the lid back on and leave it to cook for two hours. Taste it, season it and then serve the stew with greens and loads of bread to mop up the juices.
From Delicious magazine, July 2004