Seasonal Flavors: Catalan Beef Stew

Catalan Beef Stew. Photo: Denise Zito.

Diane was the first-born granddaughter on my mother’s side, and I the second (with a bunch of boys in between). Consequently, my grandmother would always call me ‘Diane’—and I just learned to answer to it. It is puzzling to note that many people who meet me now will often call me Diane—in fact it happened again last week. I just laugh and answer them.

Diane is special.  She is a quiet presence, never flashy, always elegant. Even the photos of her as the flower girl in my parents’ wedding show a composed six-year-old with a serious expression. Diane has a sharp intellect and a curious mind. I spent a day with her recently and she told me “I just signed up for a short course on Shanghai—want to come along to today’s class?”

She is fluent in Spanish and taught in the local high school. She studied abroad when that was not yet so common and has traveled to Spain every three years since then, with friends that she met during her studies.

Many years ago, Diane hosted the wedding reception for one of her brothers and served the stew that I describe below. Picture her Victorian home in rural Pennsylvania. See the Oriental rug running up the stairway. It is Christmas season and there is a very, very tall tree in the foyer, narrow, graceful and exquisitely decorated. There in the corner is her family’s heirloom baby grand. Candles illuminate the scene. She has nine siblings and so, though the wedding is immediate family only (and my parents and my family), there are a lot of people to feed.

Idyllic? Maybe. But, since then, Diane has suffered more than her share of pain, bearing it with the same quiet dignity. I will not recount here the tragedies that have befallen her, but they are the worst that a person can suffer. She endures with a strong faith, and a cutting wit.  She doesn’t gloss over the hardships. She prays always and delights in her grandchildren.  Diane is one of my personal heroes. I’m grateful for her and love her dearly.

This recipe is a delicious, Spanish-influenced stew for a special occasion on a frosty day. It serves six. When Diane made it for Kevin and Aida’s wedding reception, she prepared enough for 75 people. She is truly amazing.

Post Script: when I wrote to her brother (the groom) to jog my memory about the details of his wedding day, he told me that Diane’s house burned down a few weeks ago. She is staying with her daughter.

Catalan Beef Stew

  • ¼ lb bacon
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 3 lbs stewing beef, cut into chunks
  • 1 ½ cup sliced, yellow onions
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1 cup vermouth 
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • ½ tsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1½ cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 3250F

Cut the bacon into one-inch strips and fry. Put in the bottom of a 3-quart Dutch oven, with lid. Dry the meat with paper towels, add enough olive oil for frying and brown the meat, a few pieces at a time.  Put the meat in the Dutch oven as you finish the browning.

Lower the heat and brown the onions. Put the browned onions on top of the meat.

Brown the rice for 2-3 minutes. Scrape it into a separate bowl, for later.

Add the wine to the frying pan and cook for a few minute on medium heat, stirring to dissolve the meat bits. Pour the wine and drippings into the Dutch oven.

Add the stock. Stir in salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf and garlic. Cover and set on the lower level of the oven, and cook for 1 hour.

Remove the Dutch oven and stir in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer on top of the stove, cover and return to the oven for two hours.

Remove the Dutch oven and raise the oven temperature to 3750F

Stir in the rice. There should be enough liquid to at least cover the rice. Add more stock if needed. Bring to a simmer on the stove, then cover and return to the oven for 20 minutes.  The rice should be thoroughly cooked and most of the cooking juices absorbed.

Just before serving, fold in the grated cheese.

Red wine. Nice green salad. You’re done. Merry Christmas.


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