Tennis tournament season is back and, once again, I’m in the market for a gag. If I don’t find one (and let’s face it, there seems to be a dearth of reasonably stylish ones), I’ll have to stop accompanying Léo to matches until I learn to control my gratuitous and unhelpful comment reflex, which never fails to kick in. I can only be thankful that the majority of the other spectators don’t understand English; I won’t go into details as I wouldn’t want to sully reputations, particularly mine. The strange thing is that neither Léo nor I are particularly competitive, but there’s something about people either criticising or applauding (I don’t know which is worse) my son’s ‘faults’ that brings out the devil in me.
This is a simple version of ‘pot-au-feu’, a traditional French dish which, strictly speaking, should include several different cuts of meat as well as oxtail. In any case, it is very comforting after a day spent in the cold having your nerves ripped to shreds! It used to be that the pot containing the stew would stay cooking over the fire nearly all winter, with bits and pieces being constantly replaced. Usually the ‘bouillon’ or sauce is eaten as soup and the vegetables and meat as a main course with mustard and pickles, although I like to eat the two together.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Vegetable stock (roughly 500ml)
1kg stewing beef, cut into large cubes
4 leeks, washed and sliced
1 red pepper (optional), cut into slices
1 stick of celery, cut into four pieces
6 small carrots, cut into 3cm pieces
2 swedes or turnips, peeled and quartered
¼ white cabbage, sliced
4 small potatoes, peeled
Bouquet garni (parsely, thyme, bay)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon piment d’espelette (or paprika)
Preheat the oven to 150°C. In a fairly large casserole dish (Dutch oven) brown the onions and garlic very briefly in the olive oil. Add the beef and continue to brown for a couple of minutes. Add all the vegetables (except the potatoes) and then enough vegetable stock to cover. Add the seasoning, herbs and spices and bring to a gentle boil. Transfer to the oven and cook for about three hours, checking from time-to-time that there is sufficient liquid (the vegetables should be covered). Add the potatoes and cook for a further hour.