Tue 30 Dec 2014

Food Without Fuss: Bubbling Over


Janet Wynne Evans is simmering gently with slow-cooked, tasty and reassuringly unpretentious post-festive ideas.

This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the New Year 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

Foodwise, the New Year slot in the Wine Without Fuss calendar is always a bit of a paradox. We feel the need to tighten belts that have rarely felt tighter. Our freezers and larders are still groaning with the remains of festive excess, but we crave healthy things. January is all about life-affirming cabbage, but – praise be! – February brings National Chip Week!

Cue the stew, I say. Animal, vegetable or mineral (relish the Mosel slate in that coq au riesling, folks!), they can be as lush or as virtuous as you like, depending on your commitment to trimming, degreasing, skimming and other calorie-saving devices. Because the meaty ones can be made from the cheapest cuts imaginable, the only truly valuable investment needed to produce them is time, but it’s effectively hands-off time, spent doing other things while the house fills with wonderful smells.

I wouldn’t insult fellow-members with a lecture on how to braise, but I‘ll share a few thoughts about the three elements that, for me, turn a stew into a star. Firstly the rhythm section, which need not absolutely be onions: fennel is a fantastic base for lamb and fish, as are leeks and the subtle shallot for poultry. Secondly, the cooking medium juice, which really deserves proper stock. Any wine used should be sound and boiled down by at least a third to boost flavour. That means that any faults will be rendered in stereo, so if your bottle is not up to scratch, and especially if it’s corked, don’t consign it to cooking – see The Society’s Promise and get your money back! Thirdly, the proper layering of top and bottom notes – freshly toasted spices, woody herbs like bay and rosemary and the finely chopped stalks of parsley and coriander in at the beginning, leaves at the end to add lift and colour.

Our New Year selection is crammed with wines that will add new dimension to the concept of stewing in one’s own juice. Here are some ideas, and good companions for them, along with my best wishes for a happy New Year of food and wine enjoyment.

It seems only right to welcome the juicy, herb-scented Melnik in the Premium Selection with kavarma, the national stew of Bulgaria. It can be made with pork, lamb, beef or chicken, to which fresh tomatoes and aromatics are added. Leeks figure predominantly in the rhythm section while fresh green herbs add a pleasant lightness. The recipe below is from Anne Willan’s appropriately named Good Food No Fuss (BBC Worldwide Publications, 2003), and the addition of wine is mine.

When catering for a friend condemned (I can think of no other word) to an ultra-low-fat diet, I came across the notion that it is perfectly possible to make a beef stew without browning everything in great slicks of oil. A non-stick pan, primed with some very lean bacon sets the scene for the well-trimmed cubes of lean meat which just go in along with thinly-sliced onions and a sprinkling of garlic. Two hours in concentrated stock (try beef consommé or the soaking water from some dried porcini), a bottle of good red wine boiled down by half, a squeeze of sun-dried tomato puree and a bunch of serious herbs combine as much flavour as you could possibly wish for with a much lighter feel. Plain ribbon pasta is some carbs are needed. A juicy, berried red – our own exclusive Bordeaux Rouge (Buyers’ Everyday Reds), Domaine Bòsc Petit Verdot (Premium Red) or the dark notes of Saint-Chinian, ‘Etienne’ Château La Dournie 2011 (French Classic Reds) – is a fine option in the glass.

Noble Atlantic fish tastes sublime in the colder waters of winter and the tempation is simply to give it a wipe and stick it under the grill. However, if a well-dressed slab leaves you in agonies of indecision, be bold. It is for such moments that the terms bouillabaisse, matelote or even choucroûte de la mer were coined by our neighbours over the Channel, for whom ‘fish stew’ would have been a cop-out. My favourite fish-pie chorus line of halibut, smoked haddock, salmon and a couple of scallops, corals and all, simmered with a dash of Noilly Prat, wine, fish stock, dill and cream makes a lovely symphonie de poissons (sic) without the pastry hat that makes it somehow less formal. I need hardly add that this idea scores nul points for economy and, despite the carb saving, only your wallet will be visibly slimmer. However you need something to look forward to when the New Year resolutions go by the board, so make sure you reserve François Villard’s unctuous Contours de Mairlant (Buyers’ French Classic whites), David Baverstock’s flavoursome Esporão Alandra (Buyers’ Everyday Selection) or the crystalline but concentrated Pazo de Villarei Albariño, Rías Baixas 2013 (Buyers’ Preium Whites) for the purpose.

Despite the trendy gorgeousness of cavolo nero – the Italian bella-figura brassica designed by the creative team behind Captain Bertorelli’s hat – the easiest way to make cabbage palatable to those who don’t care for it is by presenting it in a good, rustic stews of smoked pork and pulses. As I have said many times before at this time of year, the king of these is for me is Portugal’s caldo verde, a blissfully easy, tasty and wholesome one-pot supper. You can even keep it semi-virtuous by rationing the sausage – if it’s a good one, there will be plenty of flavour. With the kind of natural national dynamic between food and wine that sets Portugal apart, this dish suits the country’s characterful whites and reds to perfection. Try the dry, herby punch of Quinta das Maias Branco (Premium Whites) or Quinta Nova Pomares, the chunky Douro in the Premium Reds selection.

There are plenty of squashes still around, to be deployed with leafy greens and pulses that are good for us are in vegetable curries. A mild garam masala (always easier to control by roasting and grinding your own spices) and a larder standby of canned coconut milk add the right warm but not palate-numbing note. For such concoctions I like to head for Chile, and the pure, sweet fruit of The Soc’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) or Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Viognier 2013 (Premium Whites).

It’s a good time to defrost the last knockings of the turkey and any delicious bits of gravy and schmalz that you may have cluttering up freezer space. Turn out the cupboards too. Personally I love a few dried morels and feel I can’t be without them, but evidently not so much that I don’t invariably find them exceeding their best-before date. Sometimes I also have a bottle of Vin Jaune on the go, but if not, some leftover dry sherry, mixed with white wine impart a fairly similar flavour. You may have some good stock frozen for just such a day, in which case out with it, or buy a good one. Procure a tub of cream, and you (almost!) have the classic Savoyard poulet aux morilles, another luxurious but easy feast. This is a dish for chardonnay.

Now that our better supermarkets obligingly combine trimmed chunks of rabbit, venison, pheasant and suchlike in handy bags, a game stew is within easy reach and moreover cooks very quickly. The leanness of such meats and the absence of flavour-boosting bones can often lead to a somewhat bland result, to make sure you subject it all to a serious overnight marinade of, bacon, onions, wine and a little olive oil. A little belly pork, added to the mix can also work wonders. Pinot noir is a classic light game wine. Try Reuilly Rouge ‘Les Pierres Plates’ in the French Classic Red selection, or if your mix is heavy on venison and your marinade spiked with the allspice and juniper berries that bring it so efficiently out of its shell, go for the spicy suppleness of Mountainside Shiraz from the Winery of Good Hope (Buyers’ Everyday Reds).

Bulgarian Lamb and Vegetable Stew (Kavarma)THE RECIPE
Bulgarian Lamb and Vegetable Stew (Kavarma)

From Good Food No Fuss by Anne Willan (BBC Worldwide, 2003)

• 900g boneless leg or shoulder or lamb
• 2 tbs vegetable oil
• 450g leeks, sliced including some of the green tops
• 2 onions, sliced
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• Salt and pepper
• A glass of white wine (my addition, and entirely optional)
• 330g tomatoes, seeded and chopped
• 225g mushrooms, sliced
• 3-4 tbs chopped oregano or savory (a Bulgarian would use chubritsa, or wild mint)
• 2-3 tbs chopped parsley

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Cut the lamb in 2.5cm cubes, discarding skin and fat. Heat the oil in a casserole and brown the pieces of lamb on all sides, working in 2-3 batches. Remove it and add the leeks, onions, garlic, salt and pepper Fry over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted. Stir in the meat and add water to just cover (along with the wine if you are using it). Top with the tomatoes, mushrooms and oregano or savory. Stir together and bring the stew to the boil. Cook it, uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes. Stir again, cover and continue cooking until the lamb and vegetables are very tender, 1-1½ hours longer. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the stew with the parsley just before serving.

Serve with dark, crusty bread and a glass of Melnik 55 (Premium Reds) or, if you are not a Fuss subscriber, any cabernet or merlot-based red of your choice.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss


  1. HHGeek says:

    You may want to check the herb quantities. At the moment it’d be terribly dry and rather over herbaceous … !

    • Martin Brown says:

      Much as we love a herby dish, yes, you could accuse us of overdoing it there! Thanks very much for spotting the formatting error, which has been amended.
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

  2. Martin Purser says:

    If you like caldo verdhe you’ll love it with some well soaked dried salt cod cooked and pureed with the potato and a bit held back to be mixed in when the cabbage (or kale) is added for the final cook. Same wine choice works. This is fish dish with muscles (not mussels).

    • Janet Wynne Evans says:

      What a cracking idea! Thanks very much for suggesting it. I imagine that using salt cod rather than spicy sausage would tone down the demands of this dish on what’s in the glass too.

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