We’ve passed the autumnal equinox and now the light in the evening is dimming at an ever-quicker pace. Even though there may be more golden days, these past couple of mornings there has been a light shimmering of frost and a crispness in the air that is just a tad on the sharp side.
This is when the cast iron casseroles and earthenware bean pots come into their own season. With our log burner glowing my appetite is ready for putting some ‘flannel’ around my own ‘lites.’
In Italy they have reinvented the antidote to fast food with the Slow Food Movement. This season is perfect for doubling up on using your heat sources. So if you have a wood cookstove like an Aga or Stanley, then the low oven is perfect for casserole preparation. You can leave, go out to work and come home to the yummiest, most soul-satisfying dinner. (A slow cooker suffices, too, but it won’t heat your house as nicely.)
Bearing in mind that cattle add to our CO2 emissions, it’s worth considering reducing the amount of meat from cattle we eat. This does not mean that you need to go vegetarian! But to lower your carbon footprint you need to consider supporting your local beef, pork and lamb producers. You can have your meat and eat it too if you reduce food mileage. It’s also important to support local food production from an economic point of view. The more we support local producers and spend money in our local communities we expend less in terms of CO2 emissions from our journeys to market globally. So look for local labels or patronise farmer’s markets where you can be confident of your food’s providence.
I am attaching a recipe for a low meat content, super delicious bean casserole that is a super hit in my household. You can get the meaty taste from just a pound of beef. The amount of beans noted is approximate. If you have dinner guests just add more beans and the proportion of the other ingredients but stick to the one pound of beef.
With a bit of time organisation it is possible to get this meal on the go before the school and office run and come home to a virtually effortless hearty supper. Just add some nice crusty bread or a portion of rice and a salad and you have a very nutritious meal that will put some flannel on your innards.
Bee’s Pinto Bean Hotpot
250 g pinto beans
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
50 g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp capers
4 Tbsp flour (seasoned with salt and pepper)
stewing beef, cubed
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
The morning before, pre-soak 250g of pinto beans. In the evening boil the beans for approximately 40 minutes until tender. Retain the beans’ cooking water.
Either in the evening or next morning (depending on which works with your lifestyle and body clock) put the cooked beans in your casserole with 2 chopped onions, 2 minced garlic cloves, about 50 g of chopped sun dried tomatoes, 2 generous tablespoons of capers.
Put about 4 tablespoons of flour seasoned with salt and pepper on a plate. Toss some stewing beef that has been cubed into nice bite size pieces in the flour mixture. Now take a skillet and heat up some olive oil, about 2 tablespoons but you may need to add a little later as the oil absorbs the flour. Gently fry the meat cubes so that they outer part is just browned.
Add the meat to the casserole. Add enough of the retained bean cooking liquid so that the casserole is within a quarter inch of being covered. Add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and add a few twists of salt and pepper from the grinder to season.
Last thing you do before leaving in the morning put the lid on and place in a low, slow oven for at least two hours. At four hours the meat will be so tender that even the cheapest cuts of meat will taste a treat. If you will be leaving it for longer than that add more water to the pot so the stew doesn’t dry out.