Saturday, January 27, 2024

Root Vegetable Beef Stew with Mushroom and Spinach Polenta

That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? And it’s a very involved recipe. But it’s also hearty and perfect for a cold winter night – that is also why I don’t have a good picture! There was no light by dinnertime, and I was hungry anyway, so all you get is two sad unsightly pictures. Just know that this dish is excellent! I made some modifications, so here are a few notes.

The veal demi-glace concentrate is there to add concentrated flavor. I couldn’t find it in stores and had to order it online, and it wasn’t exactly cheap. Honestly, next time, I would just use some Better Than Bouillon paste and call it good enough. I used baby carrots, but that was a mistake because they didn’t soften quickly enough, so I would chop regular carrots next time (I am not in a place where I can easily find the whole miniature ones). As for the spinach, I didn’t want to have to pick over 10 ounces of fresh spinach, so I bought a 10-ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed it, squeezed the water out of it, chopped it up, and threw it into the polenta.

For the stew
3 lbs. trimmed chuck roast, cut into 3-inch chunks
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 small onion, very finely chopped
1 large carrot, very finely chopped
1 celery stalk, very finely chopped
3 large cloves garlic, very finely chopped
¼ cup tomato paste
2 cups fruity red wine
4 cups (1 quart) beef stock, plus more as needed
1 (1.5-oz.) container veal demi-glace concentrate (see note above)
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1 lb. whole petite carrots, or regular carrots cut into 4-inch lengths
1 lb. fingerling or miniature Dutch potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
8 oz. rutabaga, peeled and cut into large bite-sized cubes (I dislike it and omitted it)
8 oz. parsnip, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks
4 oz. peeled fresh or frozen pearl onions

For the mushroom and spinach polenta
3 cups water
2 cups lactose-free whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 ½ cups fine or medium-grind polenta
2 Tbsp. lactose-free butter
freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups thickly sliced gourmet mix or cremini mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 oz. baby spinach

For the stew
Pat the meat dry with paper towels and season with the measured salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Working in batches, add the beef to the pot and sear on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the seared meat to a large bowl.

Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the finely chopped onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to the pot. Stir to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add a splash of water if the mixture begins to scorch.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring continuously, until it sizzles, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine, beef stock, and demi-glace concentrate, stirring until the concentrate dissolves. Drop in the rosemary and thyme.

Return the seared meat and any accumulated juices to the pot. The braising liquid should be level with the meat, so add more stock if needed. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover tightly, and cook at a bare simmer until the meat is spoon-tender, about 2 hours.

Stir in the whole carrots, potatoes, rutabaga, parsnip, and pearl onions. Cover and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make the polenta. (When the stew is ready, keep it warm since it will be ready before the polenta – note that I shredded the beef at this point to make it easier to serve.)

For the polenta
Bring the water, milk, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Whisking continuously, add the polenta in a slow, steady stream. Cook, stirring continuously, for 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the polenta is thick and no longer tastes raw, about 45 minutes (I cooked mine for a lesser amount of time). Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon and make sure it isn't sticking in the corner. Stir more often as the polenta thickens. If the polenta turns stiff before it is done, add a little warm water.

Stir in the butter. Season generously with salt and pepper, and keep warm over very low heat.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, stir to coat, and cook until tender, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and cook until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Transfer into the saucepan with the polenta. Add the spinach a handful at a time, stirring to wilt before adding more.

Remove and discard the rosemary and thyme stems from the stew. Taste and season both the stew and polenta with salt and pepper as needed. Serve the stew over the polenta.

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