Pass The Stew and Polenta – a recipe and book recommendation

Served with a green salad, this is
a complete and comforting meal.
     Pass The Polenta by Teresa Lust is on my list as an all-time favorite book. I’ve read it, reread it and even reviewed it for my local literary group. Claiming a prominent place on my cookbook shelf (so it can be quickly located), it is full of sticky notes and lots of hot pink highlighted text.
    The book cover reads, “Teresa Lust intended to write a conventional cookbook, but she soon found that each recipe evoked a remembrance, each ingredient carried with it an anecdote.” It’s my kind of book – full of family recipes, tips and lots and lots of family stories.
    Ms. Lust provides insights into the secrets of scone making, explores varying opinions about how to make strawberry shortcake, and explains risotto preparation. However, my favorite recipe is the one included below and, I think of the story about her mother’s polenta every time I take a bite of this delicious peasant dish.

P.S. I’m finally using the rest of the stew meat I cut from the chuck roast when I prepared Pot Roast in the Slow Cooker a month ago.

Stew and Polenta    Serves 4
For the Stew
2 lbs. chuck roast or other stewing meat, trimmed & cut into chunks
All-purpose flour for dredging meat [I add salt, pepper & paprika to create a seasoned flour]
2 to 3 tablespoons oil 
1 large onion, cut into thick crescents
4 to 5 small cloves garlic, peeled & slivered
1 bay leaf
1 good pinch each of oregano, thyme & rosemary
1 glass of red wine [I used about 1 cup]
16 oz. jar of canned tomatoes, roughly cut, including their liquid [I used diced tomatoes in the can]
2 to 3 stalks of celery, including their leaves, slices
2 carrots, peeled & sliced
Quartered mushrooms, 1 cup or so, optional
1 turnip, peeled & slices, optional [I diced the turnip]
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Dredge the pieces of meat in [seasoned] flour.
Working in batches, cubes of neat are added to seasoned flour and tossed to "dredge".
2. Heat the oil in a heavy stewpot. Add the meat and cook over medium heat until the pieces are browned on all sides. 
Meat at the top of the photo has just been turned after being browned in oil.
      Stir in the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and herbs, and continue cooking until the onion is translucent. Add the wine and tomatoes, and let the stew simmer slowly, covered, for about 2 hours [or until meat in fork tender – I let it cook for about 2½ to 3 hours]. Check the pot occasionally and add water if the liquid has evaporated.
Braising is  the cooking method employed in this recipe  -- cooking meat by browning in
fat and then simmering in a closed container. This method, along with the inclusion of acids from
the tomatoes and wine, helps break down the connective tissues this less-tender cut of beef. 
3. Towards the end of the cooking time (about 30 to 40 minutes before serving), stir in the remaining vegetables and continue braising gently until the vegetables are tender [I didn't add mushroom until after the other veggies had cooked for about 15 minutes]. Season with salt and pepper [if needed].
Note: Can be made ahead and reheated.
All of veggies have been added except mushrooms  which I added
 after the denser vegetables had a chance to cook awhile.
For the Polenta
1 cup polenta (coarsely ground cornmeal)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups cold water (you can substitute 1 cup stock or milk for part of the water [I used part beef broth]
Salt & pepper
A few handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Stir water, polenta, and 1 teaspoon salt together in a heavy saucepan. Place over a low flame and stir slowly with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot to keep the polenta from sticking. Cook until the mixture thickens and pulls cleanly away from the sides of the pot, and the cornmeal feels tender on the tongue, 30 to 40 minutes [Mine was done in about 20 minutes – the mixture tends to “spurt and splatter” so it is important that a low heat is used.]
Cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon.
2. Add freshly ground pepper and more salt, if needed, to taste.

To Assemble and Serve at Table    
· Put thin slices of mozzarella, provolone, and Gorgonzola cheese on a serving plate – 8 ounces of cheese, total, is ample. Gruyère, fontina or Roquefort work well in this dish, too. [I just used thin slices of Parmesan.]
· Place the cheese plate on the table, along with the pot of stew and the dish of polenta.
· Diners serve themselves by spooning a mound of polenta onto their plate, followed by slices of the assorted cheeses and spoonfuls of stew.

Pass The Polenta: And Other Writings From The Kitchen, With Recipes by Teresa Lust; Steerforth Press (South Royalton, Vermont), 1998. This book is very reasonable priced and still available at and at other internet sites. 

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