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Beef and red wine cobbler

October 18, 2010

My grandma’s casserole dish fell into my hands last year, skipping a generation and likely piquing my uncle with annoyance (who grandma told me, had been expectant of this dishes’ arrival at his stove). Still, si on ne demande pas, on ne recevra pas… (and quelle surprise, j’aime bien demander).

Over the year, this beautiful orange heavy thing has been lovingly used for many a stew, soup and casserole. There’s nothing quite as good as chemistry, the age-old art of breaking down tiny, tiny bonds in millions of molecules for hours and hours until..what commenced the day as a rather unpromising cut of meat finishes as tender morsels that practically dissolve upon eating. Stews: they unite the old and new, modern and traditional, rich and poor; even on a budget with a cheaper cut of meat, those on a tight rein can do any stew justice, with a few hours spare. What’s more, these concoctions miraculously mature and improve if made a day early, making them the perfect dinner party dish. Simply create one or two days ahead with time, then reheat or perform the final cooking steps on the day.

This week’s stew was a beef cobbler. Not being a massive fan of dumplings, I went down the topping route. [I am alas, very un-English: I find the concept of bread and butter pudding abhorrent, for example]. However, a cobbler topping I can appreciate, as well as the versatility of this recipe; it could be left as a simple untopped stew to be served with bread and green vegetables, converted into a polish casserole with dumplings (if so wished), or left as the original recipe intended (from bbcgoodfood.com) with a muffin top. I thought the scone-style cheesy cobbler topping looked prettiest of these options however (the inner aesthete was paid heed to this week), so this is what we have here. And begin! Don’t drop the casserole on your toe. I did this with a pot in the summer and my toenail is still purple.

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

For the stew:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 700g stewing/casserole beef – diced
  • 2 tbsp plain flour*, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 bottle red wine (you can drink a glass of it, but do leave the rest for the actual food, or you’ll forget you’re meant to be cooking)
  • 4 large carrots & parsnips, cut into chunks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree / paste (or red pesto)
  • 1 pint beef stock

For the cobbler topping:

  • 500g self raising flour*
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150 g butter, diced
  • 5-6  tbsp milk
  • 100g cheese, grated
  • good pinch of nutmeg (maybe 1/2 – 1tsp)

*I made this gluten-free by using gluten free plain flour and 2 tsp baking powder. It works as well, but you might have to add a bit more liquid to the cobbler. The dough WILL fall apart, but will happily stick back together again. Nor do they rise much, so make them chunky to begin with.

Instructions

First, heat the oven to gas mark 2. Toss the diced beef in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole, and fry the meat in batches until browned on all sides, removing to some paper towel till later. Next, cleaning out the casserole first if needed, take some more oil and fry the onions till softened. Add the vegetables and the bay leaf in and stir till all coated in the oil, then mix in the tomato paste. Finally, pour in the stock and red wine (around 500 mL depending on how much you drank earlier). Bring everything to the boil, then when it’s ready, cover and place in the centre of the oven to cook for 2 hours. Check halfway through to make sure too much liquid hasn’t been lost, which it shouldn’t, but top up if necessary.

When nearing the end, make the topping. [If making ahead of time, cool and refrigerate the untopped stew after 2 hrs, and make the cobbler topping just before you cook]. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then rub the butter into the flour using only your fingertips. I was always told if your palms get floury, you’re doing it wrong. Turn up the oven to gas 6. Add in half the cheese and then the milk a little at a time until it comes together as a dough. Knead a little then roll out onto a floured surface, until the dough is around 3/4 – 1″ thick. At this point, you may want to transfer the stew from the single, deep casserole, to two more shallow dishes, so that you can use more topping. Cut out rounds with a cookie cutter of about 2-3″ diameter and arrange in rings or a slightly overlapping pattern over the stew. Top with the rest of the cheese and then bake in the oven for around 20 mins (30-35 if from cold) until the cheese is bubbling and the topping is a golden colour. Serve with green vegetables and mash.

Notes:

You’ll probably have leftover  topping dough. Don’t throw it away if you do, they make wonderful savoury cheese scones, to be munched on with a dab of butter and some tomato or onion chutney. You can freeze the dough, wrapped up tightly, until you feel the urge to try it. Watch this space.

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