Winter is really here now, a chill in the air and cold fronts bustling over in a hurry to get somewhere, showering us with torrents of rain as they pass. The scarlet vine leaves are dropping fast now, our only real autumn colour carpeting the ground with its finery.
Today was the perfect day to cook a slow stew in the oven, the aroma of its winey juices pervading the house, and the warmth of the oven giving me a place to lean against and warm up, after sitting at the computer too long. Squalls of rain drumming on the roof have no power to damp your spirits when such uplifting scents keep enticing you back to the kitchen to draw in deep satisfying breaths. If you can remember the Bisto kid, being pulled home by the wafting, come-hither tendrils of steam from the gravy on the stove, boeuf bourgignon has to be the inspiration for that! It’s worth cooking on every rainy winter weekend, just for the feel-good factor.
In fact the real title of this post should be: Waiter there’s something in my Boeuf Bourgignon and it looks like a dumpling!
The purists would be turning in their graves, after all, boeuf bourgignon is a classic French dish that should ideally be served with garlicky croutons on top, but dumplings… ? Dumplings come from a Northern European heritage and are a staple of English country culinary tradition. They are designed to fill up hungry farm labourers, soak up the stew juices and make the meat go further, distract attention from the fact that there is hardly any meat in the stew at all. They are frugal cooking at its finest. And I have another confession to make: I didn’t use burgundy, I used a South African Merlot, so this isn’t boeuf bourgignon except in the method. It is something that I am hereby classifying as Bistro Fusion: Merlot Beef with Parmesan Dumplings, invented especially for the May edition of WTSIM Bistro Food!
I’d been wanting to make dumplings for ages, ever since Homemade Heaven made them and reminded me what good winter fare they are. They don’t form part of my usual repertoire and the kids didn’t even know what dumplings were, so it’s been a long time. I went for a simple flour dumpling recipe in one of Nigel Slater’s books, that promised light and fluffy dumplings, and then left out the herbs, as I wanted the kids to eat them without being put off by green bits. They were incredibly quick and easy to make and puffed up to double their size without any fuss. These are going to be on the menu more often! Please excuse the inartistic photography - it was dark and I was hungry!!
But the proof is in the eating… I had the timing down exactly right to fit in with half time in the most exciting rugby match in years (according to my husband... it was the final of the Super14 where the Bulls trashed the Chiefs, if any of you are rugby fans!), so the dish had serious competition in making an impression. But it went down a storm with my husband and with the two girls, so it took me a while to notice the heavy silence emanating from my son’s place. He had that neutral, set look and a barely touched plate. My pickiest eater wasn’t going to be fooled into believing that dumplings are really just another version of bread. As his sisters enthusiastically ate their platefuls and eventually discovered the filling properties that dumplings are renowned for, he sloped off to the fridge and got himself an apple. Never mind – he won’t fade away – we’re having guests for lunch tomorrow: roast potatoes and roast chicken, so I’ll allow about ten potatoes just for him.
Here is my version of the recipe:
Boeuf Bourgignon or Merlot Beef with Parmesan Dumplings
About 900g/2lb chuck steak (I used stewing steak)
1 medium onion
2 cups red wine – burgundy or Merlot!
2 cloves garlic
2 sprigs thyme
100g/4 oz mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon flour
For the dumplings
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons grated parmesan
about 120ml/half cup milk
(add chopped parsley and thyme if your kids eat green things!)
Cut the meat into largish chunks. In a heavy casserole heat 2 tablespoons of oil and brown the meat on all sides in batches. Put the meat aside on a plate, while you soften the onions in the same pan. Return the meat to the pan, sprinkle the flour over and stir it all in till it has soaked up the juices. Pour in the wine and stir it all together, allow to bubble. Add the chopped garlic and herbs, season with salt and pepper. Cover with a tight lid and cook in a low oven (140C/275F) for about 2 hours. Add the mushrooms (the recipe also added bacon and small onions at this point, but I didn’t have any and it still tasted great) then return covered to the oven for another hour. It can be cooked to this point in advance and reheated later, when you want to add the dumplings.
Fifteen minutes before you want to eat, make the dumplings: sieve the flour together with the baking powder and salt (the sieving helps lighten the dumplings so don’t skip this). Add the grated parmesan. Mix in the beaten egg and then add milk a bit at a time, until it comes together in a soft but not too sticky dough. Form into 8-10 balls. Slide them gently into the top of the casserole and let it simmer covered for 10-12 minutes, until the dumplings have doubled in size. I did this last bit on top of the stove, to make sure the liquid was simmering properly.
Serve with some green vegetables.
This is my last minute entry for Johanna’s WTSIM Bistro event - the deadline is today, so get moving if you haven't already submitted your entry!