Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? When cooking, fresh is best in my book. Thus, I am wary of recipes that “can be made a day ahead”. If I want it tomorrow, I made it tomorrow. Stew happens to be an exception to this rule. I believe that stews, like beer, are not made but brewed. They require hours on the stove over a low, consistent heat. Those involved in the academic world might relate to stews because of our shared interest in mulling. For me, studying requires an insistent, yet not exhaustive effort. I need to steadily pour over material before I understand it. It’s not a “heat-and-eat” method. So as I considered and chewed on my upcoming work this week, a stew empathetically mulled along with me. Ah stew, a perfect study buddy (that you can devour at the end).
Chide me if you will that stews are out of season; but the season of spring is arguably still not upon us. So, haters gonna hate, but this hearty meal will last for days, and will sufficiently fill and satisfy even the most insatiably hungry dinner accomplice.
After hours of cycling between the oven and the stovetop, I had a stew that literally fell apart, in a good way. Like a pioneer woman, I hauled a cauldron-looking cast iron pot from the depths of dark oven. I lifted the top, revealing the savory sustenance within. The pork shoulder took on an almost beefy flavor, so tender it called for only the most delicate chewing. The autumn-colored butternut squash provided tasty filler, and the fennel gave the necessary crunch of texture. Scents of dry, aged red wine and tomatoes filled my lungs with culinary gusto and warmth. I let the stew cool and thicken on the stove, then put it in the fridge overnight. The next evening, I slowly reheated it and served it all over egg noodles to make the stew go further. I devoured spoonful after spoonful. The flavors had time to further mingle together, creating a stew sauce with the perfect balance. Starved for a good meal after a weekend of studying, I burnt the roof of my mouth at least three times while eating it – totally worth it.
It tasted just like “home”. Not necessarily of any home in particular, just that embrace of familiarity and smile of satisfaction you get when you feel “at home”. It’s the closest thing to a hug from your dinner that you can get.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit 2004.
Pork Stew with Fennel and Butternut Squash
3 lbs pork shoulder (Boston Butt), cut into 2 inch pieces
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp dry rubbed sage
1 tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
3 T olive oil
2 cups onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes in juice
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 cup dry red wine
1 large fennel bulb; fronds chopped and reserved for garnish, bulbs cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small butternut squash, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
1. Place pork in large mixing bowl. Mix next 6 ingredients in small bowl, then sprinkle over pork (make sure it coats it evenly). Let stand at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat oven to 350˚.
3. Heat oil in large cast-iron or oven-proof pot over medium-high heat.
4. Add half of the pork to pot; sauté until brown, about 8 minutes.
5. Remove browned pork, place on plate or bowl. Repeat steps 4 & 5 with remaining pork.
6. Add onions and garlic to pot; sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
7. Add tomatoes with juices, broth, wine and pork mixture. Bring to boil and scrape up any browned bits. Return pork to the pot.
8. Cover pot, place in oven. Cook stew 1 hour.
9. Add fennel bulbs and squash cubes to stew. Cover and cook in oven until pork and vegetables are tender, about 1 hour.
10. Using slotted spoon, transfer meat and vegetables to large bowl; cover.
11. Boil sauce over medium-high heat until thickened enough to coat spoon, about 15-20 minutes.
12. Return meat and vegetables to sauce; season with salt and pepper.
(Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use. Rewarm over low heat.)