January and February are generally dark, wet and dreary months in England and on the whole, this year is no exception. It is still dark by 5pm, but I noticed yesterday that the outside lights (which are on a timer) came on before it got dark, which means the days are - albeit almost imperceptibly - getting longer. It’s not long now till March when the snowdrops and daffodils will begin to come through here, but in the meantime, there is nothing like a lovely comforting stew to warm the cockles of your heart.
Orzo is versatile rice shaped pasta that works well in soups, casseroles and anywhere you would use rice or pasta. I am a big fan of orzo, and used it in yesterday's post too. It gives soups and stews a hearty texture and really enhances their flavour as well.
This dish takes a little while to assemble, but once it is cooking you can just leave it until the last few minutes. It is a wonderful to have it stewing away in the oven, the gorgeous smells it gives your home promising the wonderful meal to come.
To serve 4 people you need:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 to 4 carrots, peeled and cut in one inch chunks
¼ cup Madeira or sherry (optional)
1 pound of chuck steak or stewing beef, cubed
1 bottle of (lager) beer (approximately 11 ounces)
4 cups beef stock (approximately)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (tomato puree)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
1 - 14 ounce can of mixed beans, preferably organic, drained & rinsed
1 cup orzo
salt and pepper to taste
You need a large lidded casserole that is suitable for both stove top and oven, or a frying pan for the stove top and a casserole for the oven. Preheat the oven to 350℉ (160℃ or 150℃ for a fan oven).
Heat the oil in the stove top safe casserole or in the frying pan on the stove top over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to become translucent.
Stir in the chuck steak or stewing beef cubes and brown. When the steak is taking on a bit of colour on all sides, add the Madeira or sherry (if using), the lager, 2 cups of the beef stock (reserve the rest for later). and the tomato puree. Stir until everything is combined.
Add the carrots, drained beans and oregano to this mixture and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat for about five to ten minutes.
If you are using a frying pan, this is the point when you should transfer the mixture to an oven safe lidded casserole. If you are already using a casserole, pop the lid on. Put the casserole into the oven and cook for an hour, stirring once half way through if you remember.
Remove the casserole from the oven. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the orzo. Add the reserved stock and stir. Put the lid back on and return the casserole to the oven.
After about fifteen minutes, remove the casserole from the oven again and check if the orzo has absorbed all the stock. If it has, taste it for tenderness. If it still seems a bit firm, add a bit more stock, cover and return to the oven for about ten more minutes. If there is still stock left in the mixture don’t worry, just return the casserole to the oven for about ten more minutes. By the way, this is a good point to taste the dish for flavour (don’t burn your mouth!) and add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.
When the stock has absorbed and the orzo is al dente, your casserole is done. Remove it from the oven and place it on a heat safe surface. Allow to rest for about ten minutes before serving in warmed bowls with some nice warm bread or rolls on the side.