As I’ve said in recent posts, the weather has finally cooled down and it is now obvious that we are in the throes of winter. The last couple of weeks everyone has been talking about how the snow will be upon us soon. I don’t put too much stock in weather forecasts, that is, unless they’re coming from a farmer. And as I’ve been spending every weekend in the countryside as of late, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to eavesdrop on huddles of farmers who always seemed to be discussing the impending, inevitable snow. If they say it’s coming, then it must be coming. So I allowed myself to hope.
Being from California, snow is a huge novelty to me. While I was not deprived of snow as a child (we went on at least one skiing trip every year), I’ve never lived somewhere where it snows until I moved to France. There is something so delicious about waking up in the place where you live all year to find that it has magically turned to white. This is not an experience you can get from driving to the mountains from Southern California to ski for the weekend.
Last weekend was supposed to be when my white wonderland dreams came true. We were supposed to get our first real snow of the winter in Brittany, the kind that sticks to the ground and is perfect for snowmen and snowball fights and snow ice cream. I prepared myself for a cold weekend in the countryside, and I stocked up on the ingredients for boeuf bourguignon, the perfect thing to eat in front of the fire after a knackering day tromping around in the snow. But, as I’m sure you’ve guessed from all this buildup…the snow never came really came. It snowed Saturday afternoon and night, enough to coat the ground for a few short hours, but then the snow turned to sleet and the magical white washed away as if it had never been. I was able to catch a few snowflakes on my tongue, and then they were gone…
The snow never came, but at least the boeuf bourguignon didn’t disappoint…I’ve made Julia Child’s version of the dish once before and I stuck to the recipe pretty religiously (an oddity for me). This time I gave myself a bit more leeway. Find below my (gasp) slightly modified version of Julia’s signature dish. It is mostly the same, except I added more vegetables and more garlic (of course) and it’s slightly less involved. I served it with a roast potato dish, for which you can also find the recipe below.
9- to 10-inch, fireproof casserole dish , 3 inches deep
6 ounces bacon, cut into lardons (small, thin sticks)
1 Tbsp. olive oil or cooking oil
3 pounds lean stewing beef , cut into 2-inch cubes
5 sliced carrots
2 sliced onions
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
4 Tbsp. flour
3 cups full-bodied, young red wine , such as a Chianti
2 to 3 cups brown beef stock or canned beef bouillon
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 cloves mashed garlic
1 tsp. thyme
2 fresh bay leaves (dry, crumbled bay leaves can be substituted but fresh ones are optimal)
36 small white onions , brown-braised in stock (to brown braise sautée the onions in olive oil until they begin to brown, and then simmer them covered for about half an hour in 1/2 cup beef stock)
1 pound quartered fresh mushrooms , sautéed in butter
Remove rind from bacon, and cut bacon into lardons (sticks, 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long).
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté the bacon in the oil over moderate heat for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you sauté the beef.
Dry the stewing beef in paper towels; it will not brown if it is damp. Sauté it, a few pieces at a time, in the hot oil and bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
In the same fat, brown the sliced vegetables (carrots and large onions).
Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with the salt and pepper. Then sprinkle on the flour and toss again to coat the beef lightly with the flour. Set casserole uncovered in middle position of preheated oven for 4 minutes. Toss the meat and return to oven for 4 minutes more. (This browns the flour and covers the meat with a light crust.) Remove casserole, and turn oven down to 325 degrees.
Stir in the wine, and enough stock or bouillon so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon rind. Bring to simmer on top of the stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of preheated oven. Regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the beef is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms. Set them aside until needed.
When the meat is tender, add the onions and their juice as well as the mushrooms. Serve topped with fresh parsley and a side of rice, simple pasta or potatoes, cooked a desired.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/2 tablespoon
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled (smaller diameter potatoes are great, if you can find them)
4 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and cut in half
1 tablespoon thyme
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of the oil and a generous pinch of salt.
Slice potatoes crosswise very thinly. Toss the potato slices in the oil and salt and arrange in the baking dish of your choice. Arrange your potato slices vertically in the dish.
In a small bowl, toss the chunks of garlic with the remaining olive oil. Top the potatoes with the garlic, thyme, another generous pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Bake 2 hours, or until potatoes are cooked through with a crisped top. If casserole seems to brown too fast, cover it with foil to slow it down.