Beef stew and parsley dumplings

I could never live permanently in a hot country. OK, so I have been known to moan about the cold weather from time to time. But if it were always hot, we’d never be able to eat warming winter grub like sticky sponge puddings, hearty meat pies or rich, slow-cooked casseroles. We need the seasons in order to eat well I reckon.

Stew and dumplings, a proper winter warmer

This beef stew with rib-sticking parsley dumplings is one of my favourite winter warmers. It’s a proper old-fashioned kind of meal, like your gran would make.

I like to include sweet potatoes in the stew to give it a lovely sweet, creamy flavour, but the real beauty of stews and casseroles is that you can use whatever root vegetables you happen to have in. It’s cooked nice and slowly so the meat and the vegetables are gorgeously tender. If your children aren’t big fans of veggies, this is a great recipe for sneaking a few past them.

Beef stew and parsley dumplings

Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
500g stewing steak, diced
2 carrots, sliced
1 parsnip, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp corn flour
25o ml hot beef stock
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes
small bunch rosemary, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste

For the dumplings

110g self-raising flour
salt and pepper
1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
50g shredded suet

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2.

In a large casserole heat the oil and fry the onion until golden. Add the beef quickly and fry until browned.

Next add the root vegetables and garlic and cook together for another few minutes. Sprinkle over the corn flour and mix in to cover the meat and vegetables.

Pour in the beef stock, tomatoes and add the rosemary and a little salt and pepper to taste – depending on how well seasoned your stock is. Bring to a gentle simmer, then cover and put in the oven for around four hours.

When the stew is almost finished cooking, make up the dumplings. Mix the flour, a pinch of salt and pepper and parsley in a bowl. Add the suet and quickly combine but don’t rub in. Mix in cold water, a little at a time, until you can pull the ingredients together to make a stiff dough that leaves the bowl cleanly. Shape into eight dumplings.

When the stew is ready, that is when the meat is tender and falls apart easily, place the dumplings carefully on top of the stew and spoon over some of the liquid. Cover again and put back in the oven, increasing the temperature to 220°C/Gas Mark 7, for about 20 minutes until the dumplings are cooked through.

Irish stew

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Irish stew.
Irish stew who?
Irish stew in the name of the law!

Apologies. I had an overwhelming desire to share one of my favourite childhood jokes from the classic Ha Ha Bonk Book. Whenever Irish stew is mentioned, I hear the joke in my head. Right, so now I’ve got that out of my system, on with the food…

I was recently inspired to experiment with mutton after reading a couple of newspaper articles. So after stocking up the freezer with various cuts, my first foray into cooking this delicious but much maligned meat saw me creating a wonderfully aromatic mutton curry.

Next I wanted to try something a little more traditional. And what could be a more traditional use for mutton than Ireland’s national dish, Irish Stew?

I found the recipe below in the rather wonderful The Silver Spoon cook book. I know, I know. Slightly strange to turn to the Italians for an Irish dish, but I love the fact you can look up any ingredient in The Silver Spoon and you’ll find what to do with it.

What immediately struck me was just how simple this recipe is. Apparently purists use only mutton, potatoes, onions and water, and perhaps a few herbs. It was hard to resist the temptation to add just a little something, even if it were just a couple of carrots. But resist I did, and good job too as it really doesn’t need anything else.

Despite the mutton having quite a strong flavour (it’s almost gamey), the whole family really liked this dish and so I will be cooking it again. Surprisingly, considering he is a big fan of curries, my husband prefered the Irish stew to the mutton curry.

If you can’t get hold of mutton, try using lamb instead.

Irish Stew

Serves 4

800g mutton, cut into cubes
800g potatoes, thinly sliced
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper

In a large casserole arrange alternate layers of mutton, potatoes and onions, seasoning each layer with salt, pepper and herbs as you go. Add the bay leaf and pour in just enough water to cover.

Bring to the boil over a high heat. Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 1¼ hours until tender. (Or, like me, leave in the bottom oven of the Aga for an afternoon.)

And that’s it. Couldn’t be easier. Enjoy with a big hunk of buttered bread.