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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beef Stewed with Pumpkin and Cider

Now that Halloween is over, you can cook up those (uncarved) pumpkins you've been using as decoration.

This dish is full of complex flavors: savory, spicy and slightly but naturally sweet, thanks to the apple cider.

Many of the herbs in this recipe are medicinal. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, garlic, cinnamon, cayenne and turmeric all have anti-cancer actions (they inhibit angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels necessary for the growth of tumors). Cayenne and turmeric are also powerful anti-inflammatories. Cinnamon supports good digestion. And garlic is good for the immune and cardiovascular systems.

Once herbs and spices are ground, they can quickly lose freshness and flavor. So I like to buy them whole whenever I can, and grind them as I need them. If you only have ground spices, substitute a similar amount for this recipe. (For example, use 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin instead of 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, ground). The difference will be minimal.

Because this recipe calls for several herbs and spices, if you are missing one or a few, the others should be sufficient. I used three different fresh herbs - rosemary, thyme and oregano - because I already had them on hand. If you don't have fresh herbs, you can substitute a couple of dried bay leaves and this dish will still be a winner.

When preparing the pumpkin, reserve the seeds for roasting (see the note that follows this recipe). There is no need to peel the pumpkin. The outside is edible, but can be a bit tough. Once thoroughly cooked, the flesh easily falls away from the peel.

Slow-cooking works well with inexpensive cuts of meat, which may start out tough but become melt-in-your-mouth tender after a couple of hours in a low oven. Season the meat in advance if you can; 24 to 48 hours is ideal.

½ tsp cumin seeds, or substitute ground cumin
¼ tsp coriander seeds, or substitute ground coriander
¼ tsp cardamom seeds, or substitute ground cardamom
½ tsp peppercorns, or substitute ground peppercorn
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground turmeric
1 pound grass-fed beef for stew, cubed, at room temperature
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
2 cups fresh-pressed apple cider, unsweetened
2 cups beef stock
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 parsnips, cut into chunks
Several fingerling potatoes
10 Cipollini onions, blanched in boiling water for one minute, then peeled and trimmed (or substitute 1 large onion, cut into wedges)
1 large sprig rosemary
Several sprigs lemon thyme
Several springs oregano
1 small pumpkin, cut into chunks, seeds reserved for roasting

Grind the cumin, coriander and cardamom seeds with the peppercorns in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Add them to a large bowl with the sea salt, cinnamon, cayenne, allspice and turmeric. Stir to combine and toss with the beef cubes until thoroughly coated. Set the seasoned meat aside while you prepare the other ingredients or if seasoning the meat in advance, transfer it to an airtight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Warm the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the beef and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides. Add the apple cider and stir to incorporate any brown bits at the bottom of the pan.

Nestle the fresh herbs into the middle and add the carrots, parsnips, potatoes and onions. Pour the beef stock over the vegetables and place the pumpkin pieces on top, flesh-side down, to steam.

Bring the mixture to a simmer on the stove top, then cover tightly and transfer to the oven. Bake for 2 hours.

To serve, arrange the vegetables and meat in shallow bowls. Strain the broth to remove any stray leaves from the herbs, then ladle it over the top.

Alternatively, remove the flesh of the pumpkin from the peel and mash. Arrange the mashed pumpkin on individual plates, place the other vegetables and beef cubes on top, and spoon some sauce over everything. The mashed pumpkin will soak up the sauce.

To roast the pumpkin seeds:

Remove and reserve the seeds from the pumpkin. Discard any stringy material. Rinse and drain the seeds. Transfer them to a baking sheet, toss them with olive oil, and sprinkle them with sea salt. Roast them while the stew bakes, stirring them every 10 minutes, until crispy, about 40 minutes.

You can use the roasted seeds to garnish the stew, but because they quickly become soggy, I prefer to save them for a snack.

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