Summer is winding down, and so is our local farmers’ market. Apples and pears fill baskets of all sizes. The air is bathed with the singular smell of roasting chiles. That smell always anticipates the fragrance of burning piñon as nights cool off and fireplaces are lit. Nearly every vendor has piles of potatoes of all shapes, colors, and sizes. This last week I bought fresh-roasted green chiles which I used for pork posole for my visiting son and fingerling potatoes with no particular fate in mind for them.
I considered creamed potatoes with green peas, which is a long-time family favorite, I decided against that because I would still have to come up with a protein. Then I thought of Burgundy beef or, in its French guise, boeuf Bourguignon. The first time I ever had Burgundy beef was in my internship days. I was making $75 a month, so any cheap or free food was always welcome. Most of the hospitals still had staff meals, so they served as the house staff’s main source of sustenance. In general, the food was less than gourmet. One of my colleagues was dating a dietetics intern who worked at the VA hospital. She always knew the menus in advance, and the VA food was by far the best. We would make sure to go to the VA when the menu was especially good, and we always were sure to make Burgundy beef night.
At the time we were mystified about the name, certain – especially with the VA – that it didn’t refer to Burgundy wine. What a surprise when a couple of years later, my new bride and I were watching Julia Child on our 14-inch black and white television set in our basement apartment. Julia made what we considered to be a very fancy French dish. boeuf Bourguignon. We realized that it was our old VA standby, Burgundy beef. We tried out Julia’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I. It was the most delicious stew that either of us had ever had. But like most Julia recipes, it was not straightforward, requiring multiple steps to get each ingredient cooked just so before everything was combined.
This is an easy version that is still pretty good. I used a braising pan in the oven, cooking the stew for about 4 hours at low temperature, but a slow cooker would work perfectly. Julia Child’s recipe doesn’t call for green peas. She suggests them on the side, but I tossed in some frozen peas at the last minute for color and a boost of the healthy index. The most important thing is to make it easy on yourself.
Boiling onions need to be blanched and peeled
Burgundy beef in the braising pan
Four hours of cooking
Ready to eat
Easy Peasy Burgundy Beef
- 1 pound stir-fry beef, cut into 1 – 2 inch chunks (Choose your own kind of beef. Stew meat is fine; filet would be over the top.)
- olive oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 6-8 stems of fresh thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 8 ounces white button mushrooms (one fiberboard basket)
- 10 boiling onions, blanched, outer skin peeled, root and stem ends trimmed and pierced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut in obliques
- 1 rib celery, cut in triangles
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed (optional)
- Over high heat in a braising pan, brown the beef in olive oil. Stir in the flour to coat the beef. Cook until the flour is lightly browned and the oil is absorbed.
- Add the beef stock, red wine, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, garlic, mushrooms, onions, carrot and celery. Return to the boil and cover.
- Transfer to the middle of an oven preheated to 215°F. Braise for 4 hours, until the potatoes are cooked through and the beef is tender. Stir occasionally, and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.
- About 10 minutes before you are finished cooking, stir in the peas. Serve.
We had a chance to help my son celebrate his birthday this year. I agreed to cook, and I wrestled with the menu. We often have steaks when we visit the family, and while they are not vegetarians, they do try to limit their meat intake. On top of that the girls are in the finicky stage of growing up so there are lots of foods they won’t eat, even with encouragement from their mom and dad.
That challenge made me think of spaghetti and meatballs. That way, if someone didn’t want meat – for whatever reason – he or she could forego the meatballs. Similarly, if the girls wanted only plain pasta, that would work, too. I thought of my mother’s homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs. I guess the sauce could be called a marinara, but to me it is much richer than marinaras at restaurants or in stores. Mom learned to make the sauce at my father’s pleading when we were living in a basement apartment within a compound of a big Italian family. I remember Mom going upstairs to take daily cooking lessons – there was always a pot of spaghetti sauce on the stove – until she thought that she had mastered the recipe. Over the years, she and I have cut corners (no longer fresh tomatoes, carrots, etc.), but I think the recipe is still a good one.
The meatballs are another matter. I am not particularly fond of most meatballs. They are usually dry and not, IMHO, very flavorful. I think this recipe has cracked the code, and the recipe makes enough for lots of leftovers. After the birthday party in Silicon Valley, I brought some sauce and meatballs back to San Francisco so that my daughter and son-in-law could have a midnight snack when they got back home on the late flight from New York City. There was nothing left in the morning but the dirty dishes.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled, trimmed and mashed
- 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes with juice
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 to 8 cremino mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and sliced
- 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- juice of ½ fresh lemon
- more salt and pepper as needed
- Over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and stir in the onions. Cover to sweat the onions until they are soft and translucent. Be careful not to let them brown.
- Add the garlic and stir for another minute or so, being careful not to brown the garlic.
- Stir in the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, beef broth and red wine. Bring to the boil and then reduce to the simmer.
- Cook, covered, for an hour, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add water if the sauce become too thick.
- Stir in the sliced mushrooms and herb seasoning. Simmer for another hour, uncovered, stirring and adding water as needed.
- Add the sugar and lemon.
- Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
- Add the browned meatballs (see below) and simmer for another hour or until the meatballs are cooked through.
- 1 pound ground beef (85% lean)
- 1 pound Italian sausage (sweet or hot according to your taste)
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 1 tablespoon Italian herb seasoning
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup (about) fresh bread crumbs
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, sausage, and eggs. Use your hands (freshly washed of course) to mix the ingredients thoroughly
- Mix in the herb seasoning, salt, and pepper . Make sure they are thoroughly combined
- Stir in the bread crumbs. Hold back a few to make sure the mixture is not too dry. Then add them if needed. Add more bread crumbs if the mixture is still too moist.
- Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes so that the bread crumbs absorb moisture from the eggs. Then roll a bit of the mixture – slightly larger than a golf ball – between your palms until it forms a round, smooth meatball. Repeat the process until you have used up all of the meat mixture. You should be able to make about two dozen meatballs
- Working in batches, brown the meatballs on all sides in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet. When all of the meatballs are browned, add them to the spaghetti sauce and cook everything over medium low heat for another hour.
- Serve over cooked spaghetti or other pasta of your choice with freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Canned tomatoes and tomato paste
Italian seasoning – marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil
Meatballs ready to brown
Meatballs simmering in spaghetti sauce
The only thing missing is the spaghetti and meatballs
Dinner is served
San Francisco’s Ferry Building Farmers Market is much more than the outdoor stalls which attract crowds a couple of days each week. There are all sorts of shops inside the building selling everything from kitchen gear to local caviar. The cheese shops are outstanding, the bakeries are great, and the mushroom place has a huge choice of the freshest specimens. For the carnivores, there are several great shops, but a favorite of both Sarah and me is Prather Ranch. We bought four succulent lamb shanks already done up in plastic, but clearly very fresh. These would be the centerpiece of our farmers market meal.
Turning the braising lamb shanks
After getting the lamb shanks home, Sarah browned them in a huge Magnalite casserole along with a couple of cloves of smashed garlic and some aromatic vegetables: carrots and onions. Chefs seem divided over the use of celery in the classic mirepoix combination of onions, celery, and carrots. Some refuse to use celery as they think it is too bitter. Whatever your own personal bias might be, be sure to brown the lamb shanks in some oil and your choice of vegetables. Add some stock or water and a good slug of red wine. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in a generous handful of fresh thyme and Mediterranean (not Mexican) oregano. Bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce the heat to the lowest simmer.
Some purists insist on using rosemary and garlic as the classic seasoning for lamb. You can do that instead if you prefer, but I can guarantee that thyme and oregano work beautifully.
Steaming braising liquid with herbs
Sarah finished her dish over low heat on the stove top, turning and basting frequently as well as skimming off excess fat. If you prefer, you can braise the lamb shanks, covered, in the oven at low heat – no more than 250°F. Be sure to check the pot frequently and skim the rendered fat. Plan to braise the shanks for at least 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is well done, tender, and falling off the bone.
When they are done to your liking, remove the lamb shanks to a platter and serve them immediately while still warm.
Finished lamb shanks
Lamb shanks vary greatly in size, but in most cases you should allow one for each diner. With only three of us and four lamb shanks we wound up with leftovers.
Ready to serve