All home cooks need a hearty stew in their arsenal, for those days when the simple steps of chopping, simmering, and stirring bring back a sense of calm and sanity, when the savory aromas wafting from your kitchen impart comfort, and warm oodles of nourishment can be ladled out and enjoyed by the bowlful. I prefer a thick sauce, warming spices, and colorful bites of tasty vegetables that get more flavorful through a long, slow simmer. Here I draw on a few techniques from Jamie Oliver’s stews, which he tends to simmer predominantly in wine or beer (I prefer wine) and punches up at serving time with lemon zest and some herbs. I find butternut squash and beef make the perfect pairing in a slow-cooked stew, complementing the texture, and sweet/savory notes of each, and the spice blend I use here adds layers of depth to the warm flavors. All-told, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour labor of love (mostly unattended in the oven) to create this pot of stew, but worth every delicious minute. Ladle up a bowlful and enjoy!
Allspice Beef and Butternut Squash Stew
(Adapted loosely from Jamie Oliver’s “Jools’s Favourite Beef Stew”)
- 800 g./1 1/2 lb. of beef for stew or skirt steak, with as much marbling as you can find, cut into roughly 1 1/2 inch cubes
- Spice rub: 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. sea salt, 1/4 tsp. white pepper, 1/4 tsp. black pepper, 1/4 tsp. coriander, 1/8 tsp. cumin, 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 glug olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped into 1/2 inch pieces or long thin coils
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1/2 bottle red wine (I used the northern Italian Nobile di Montepulciano)
- 300 ml, or 1 1/3 cup beef stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 butternut squash, chopped into roughly 1 1/2 inch cubes with skin and stem removed
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. flour
- zest of one lemon
- 1/4 cup chopped chives
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- salt & pepper to taste
Pat the cubed beef dry with paper towels, mix up the spices, and sprinkle over the beef; let rest for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to a low temp – 300 F or 150 C (or 160, if your oven is like mine and doesn’t stay at a lower temp). Heat a dutch oven over medium heat and add some olive oil. Brown the spiced beef cubes in batches, careful not to overcrowd the pot, and turning every few minutes to ensure even browning. Transfer cooked beef to a bowl with juices and set aside. In the same pot, add the chopped onion and another glug of olive oil if needed to start to soften the onion over low heat. After a few minutes, when onion is translucent, add the chopped garlic and continue cooking on low. When cooked through, make room in the center of the pot for the tomato paste, cook to impart a caramelized flavor to the tomato paste, then mix in with the onion and garlic.
Deglaze the pot with a bit of the wine, scraping any browned bits off the bottom and sides of the pot and increase heat to medium-high. Add remaining wine, beef stock, bay leaves, and reserved browned beef, sprinkle with a final grind of black pepper, and bring to a simmer. Cover, and stick the pot in the oven to simmer slowly. After 1 1/2 hours, remove the pot to stir in the chopped butternut squash and return to the oven with lid on again to cook for another 45 minutes. At this point, the beef should be tender and easily broken down with a spoon, and the butternut squash should be cooked through and softened but still retaining its shape.
Move the dutch oven to the stovetop. In a mug or small bowl, soften the butter (place it on the warm stove for a minute or two) and stir in the flour briskly until it is incorporated and a smooth paste. Ladle a spoonful of the stew’s broth into the paste and mix thoroughly until all the butter-flour mixture is dissolved and there are no lumps. Heat the dutch oven again on low heat and add the thickened broth back in and mix well until incorporated and heated through to a thicker consistency. Some of the squash at this point will break down and help thicken the sauce even more; be careful not to stir so vigorously that it breaks up all the squash cubes – the cubed squash adds a nice bite to the stew. Taste and add any more salt & pepper or seasoning to suit your taste.
Find the bay leaves and discard them. Ladle out the stew into bowls and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt, chives, and lemon zest (this step is important, as it balances out the sweet-savory flavors of the stew with a punch of zesty flavors!). Enjoy!