While I love the light and breezy cooking of summer, I look forward to all the fare that the fall and winter seasons bring. I especially love the cooking techniques of the season–roasting, braising and stewing. So on a dreary, rainy Saturday with a fully stocked kitchen, I pulled out the Dutch oven and turned on the hearth (a.k.a. the oven) for the first time.
I went grocery shopping that week with the intention of using the FIFO (First In, First Out) inventory system with what I had existing in my pantry and freezer. Most significant to note were cans of tomatoes and white beans and a freshly made merguez sausage mixture in my freezer.
The items dictated my first two dishes on my cooking list. The second dishes were staples to keep in the freezer and to use as part of meals during the week.
The Cooking List:
Merguez Sausage Stew
The trick in putting together this day of cooking was prepping once for three different dishes. The base of the first three items is a mixture of vegetables called a mirepoix–onion, celery and carrot–that is used in most stocks, soups and stews. I added garlic and half of my battle was done.
The second trick is making use of inactive cooking time. Summer cooking requires you to stand over a stove or grill for quick meals that need tending. My cooking list was more about putting the ingredients in and letting the oven and pot go to work.
I started with the chicken stock: bones (backs and necks) I bought for $1.39 a pound plus the mirepoix, garlic, herbs, peppercorns and cold water to cover. I brought it to just under a simmer and let it go for as long as I was cooking that day. Done and cooking…
Next was the Bolognese to use those cans of tomatoes. I started with sauteing the mirepoix then added ground beef to brown, deglazed with milk then again with red wine, added the canned tomatoes that I pureed in the food processor, herbs and seasoning. Done and cooking…
The most active were the vegetables–cauliflower and broccoli. The equally sized cut florets require a quick steam in a covered pot over boiling water for three minutes or so. Cool them on a sheet pan, toss them with olive oil, crushed garlic, salt and pepper and some red pepper flakes (optional) and roast in a preheated 400-degree oven until brown, 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan and turning the florets at least once. A side dish is done and ready to use during the week.
Finally, my invention of a merguez sausage stew using the fresh lamb sausage mixture, which a sous chef friend gave to me, and a can of white cannellini beans. The flavor of merguez is so intense and unique with spices of cumin, coriander, cinnamon and harissa (North African condiment) that I wanted to combine it with something that could absorb the flavor without imparting any of its own.
First, I rendered the fat from the meat mixture over medium high heat, leaving three tablespoons of fat in the pot and reserving the rest. Then I added the mirepoix to the cooked meat and sauteed until vegetables were slightly browned, then added chopped garlic.
A fond will appear on the bottom of the pot. Fond is the good stuff–the sugars from the vegetables and the brown bits of meats–reduced to intensified flavor. You need that to make sauces and enhance the flavors of your dishes.
The only way to get it up is by deglazing the pan with a liquid like water, stock, juice or wine. I chose a sweet Manzanilla sherry, a third of a cup. After I poured it in (NOTE: If using alcohol to deglaze, move the pot off the flame first), I scraped the bottom of the pot with my wooden spoon to dislodge all of the yumminess.
Next in was my homemade chicken stock thawed from my freezer (about four cups), a fresh bay leaf and half of a large can of drained and rinsed white beans. I brought it to a boil and reduced to a simmer then seasoned it with salt and pepper to taste. (SCHOP! TIP: Go easy on the salt. The taste intensifies as the dish cooks and reduces over time. You can always re-season at the end.) Done and cooking for at least one hour.
I used the balance of my beans to make a spread. In my food processor, I blended the beans with marinated roasted red peppers, fresh garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. You must taste, taste, taste to add more of an ingredient to suit your palette.
I spread the white bean mixture over a slice of toasted crusty bread and floated the crostini in a bowl of the finished stew. I love the bite of the raw garlic in the spread against the sweeter flavors of the stew.
Once my day of cooking is done, everything is cooled to room temperature first, then put away in portions in the freezer to use another day…except for one serving of that stew. After all, I did deserve a treat for all my work, inactive or otherwise.
From my hearth to yours…enjoy, get cooking and thanks for reading!
Questions at dinnertime? Chat with me at AskSCHOP, Monday through Friday, 6-8 p.m.
Kysha Harris is owner of SCHOP! SCHOP! is available for weekly service or for home entertaining. Questions? Comments? Requests? Feedback? E-mail kysha@iSCHOP.com.