The clocks have gone back, last night’s wind has blown the last of the leaves off the trees and sent them skidding and skating across the pavements, so I make it officially casserole time. There’s nothing quite like the soft comfort of a stew to banish the winter blues. My big sister hates them – it’s her worst nightmare. But for me, a stew is food heaven: add some mash and broccoli and I’m on cloud nine.
This baby is a recipe I associate with Belgium, but it’s just as popular in north-east France. This is a dish designed to bubble away all day in a marmite over the fire while madame tends to her chores (and that’s exactly what I did). A bowl of this will warm the cockles all right.
1 twirl of dried orange peel – simply dry on a baking tray in the oven at a low heat until hard and completely dry
500g stewing steak
2 carrots, sliced
A handful chopped celery
2 onions, chopped
A pack of lardons
1 large bottled of dark ale (Belgian of course)
500ml beef stock
A sprig of thyme
Oil for frying
Season the beef and brown on all sides in a large casserole, then set aside. In the same pan, fry the onions and lardons, then pop the beef back in, pour over the stock and the wine and throw in the carrots, celery, dried orange peel and thyme.
Leave to simmer for two-three hours or pop in the oven at 160C for the same amount of time. That sounds like a lot of expensive electricity (or gas) but I usually double or even triple up on oven time, cooking several dishes at once, then re-heat during the week on the hob or in the microwave.
Serve with mash and a lousy beer as you watch the rain batter against the windows.
Top tip: if you have any orange peel left, pop it in a bottle of olive oil and hey presto, you have orange oil! Great for gifting if you have a nice enough bottle to hand.