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Veal Stew Stars In a Buffet For 10

The idea that you could cram another social event into your schedule this time of year is enough to provoke an anxiety attack. But what if it's being held at your house and the invitations are already out and you're at a total loss about what to do? Make the main event a couple of days in advance, any time you find a couple of hours. (Look, you probably didn't book midnight to dawn.) In this case, the entree is a veal stew whose components are roasted in a hot oven to save standing at the saute pan. Then add a quick gratin of coarsely crushed potatoes, drizzled only with a little oil to flavor them and encourage browning, and a salad. With drinks, offer your own marinated olives, which take several days to cure. End with sauteed figs and a spoonful of cream. Dilemma solved. All you have to do is set the table. Oh yes - and cook.

Olives With Crushed Pepper and Lemon

1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1/2 cup green Picholine olives
1 cup Kalamata olives
About 1/4 cup olive oil
Pared rind of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 clove garlic, cut into thick slivers

Tip the olives into a colander and rinse them under cold water until the water runs clear. Drain them and shake the colander to remove excess moisture. Dry the olives on a large platter lined with paper towels. Transfer them to a bowl.

In a heatproof glass measuring cup, warm the olive oil in a microwave for a few seconds on low. Do not let it become hot. Pour it over the olives and add the lemon rind, crushed pepper, and garlic. Toss gently.

Pile the olives, oil, and seasonings into a plastic container. Refrigerate the olives for 2 to 3 days for the flavors to mellow. Remove the lemon rind. Just before serving, warm the olives in the oil. Transfer to a small platter and serve at once.

Serves 10.

"Roast" Veal Stew Chasseur

2 pounds boneless veal shoulder, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 onions, peeled and quartered
6 plum tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
Extra olive oil (for drizzling and sauteing)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons flour
1 quart chicken stock
1 bottle dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces and steamed until tender

Set the oven at 450 degrees. Trim off any fat from the meat and toss it in a bowl with the oil until it is coated all over. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and spread the meat on a rimmed baking sheet. Transfer it to the oven and roast it for 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until the meat is golden brown at the edges. Remove it from the oven.

In a roasting pan combine the onions, tomatoes, and shiitake mushrooms. Drizzle them with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Transfer them to the hot oven and roast them for 45 minutes or until the onions are golden at the tips and the tomatoes have collapsed. Remove them from the oven and let them sit until they are cool enough to handle.

Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees.

Use tongs to pull the skins off the tomatoes; leave the tomatoes in halves. Coarsely chop the mushrooms. Leave the onions in quarters.

In a large flameproof casserole, heat enough oil to film the bottom of the pan. Add the celery and leeks and cook over low heat, stirring often, for 8 minutes or until the leeks are softened. Add the flour and stir thoroughly over low heat for 3 minutes or until the flour begins to brown at the edges.

Add the stock and wine gradually, stirring. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the liquids come to a boil and thicken slightly.

Scrape the contents of the veal pan into the casserole. Add all the vegetables and any liquid that accumulated in the pan, the bay leaf, and half the thyme sprigs with stems.

Bring to a boil and transfer the pan to the oven. Set the cover on askew. Cook the stew for 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until the meat is very tender, turning it in the liquid several times.

Use tongs to remove the thyme and bay leaf from the liquid. Use a slotted spoon to lift the meat and vegetables from the pan and transfer them to a bowl. (If making in advance, use a plastic container for the meat and vegetables; cover and refrigerate overnight.)

Leave the liquid in the casserole. (If making in advance, tip the liquid into a separate plastic container; cover and refigerate.)

Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and let it simmer for 20 minutes or until it reduces and thickens slightly.

Meanwhile, remove the thyme leaves from the remaining sprigs and chop the leaves.

Season the stew to taste with salt and pepper.

Return the meat to the liquid, add the carrots and thyme. Let the liquid come to a boil and simmer 2 minutes. Serve at once.

Serves 10.

Quick Potato Gratin

About 1/4 cup olive oil
4 Yukon gold or yellow finn potatoes
4 russet potatoes (such as Idaho)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Set the oven at 400 degrees.

Have on hand a 12-inch baking dish. Rub the inside with oil.

Peel both kinds of potatoes and cut them into quarters. In a large pot, combine the potatoes and water to cover by 1 inch. Add salt and bring to a boil. Let the potatoes bubble steadily for 15 minutes or until they are tender.

Drain them into a colander. On a plate with a fork, crush the potatoes several pieces at a time until they are very coarsely mashed. Drizzle them with oil, salt, and pepper. Scrape the crushed potatoes into the baking dish and continue in this way until they are all in the dish. You can heap them to make them fit. Drizzle more oil on top.

Transfer the dish to the hot oven and roast the potatoes for 15 minutes or until the top begins to brown and form a crust. Serve at once.

Serves 10.

Sauteed Figs With Honey Cream

Adapted from "The Cook and the Gardener" by Amanda Hesser (W. W. Norton, 1999).

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons butter
18 to 20 small purple figs, halved lengthwise

By hand or with an electric mixer, beat the cream in a bowl until it holds soft peaks. Remove the beaters from the bowl. Fold in the honey until there are no strings visible.

In a large heavy skillet, heat the butter. Add the figs and cook them, turning gently, for 2 minutes or until the juices around the edge begin to caramelize. Take care that they do not burn.

Serve the figs at once with a spoonful of whipped cream. Serves 10.

By Sheryl Julien, Globe Staff

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