Monday, October 25, 2010

Beef & butternut squash stew

Oh, hello there!  I don't know about your zip code, but it looks like it's about to rain buckets here in Pittsburgh this morning.  While rain may bum out some people and be a reason (and a good one, at times) to mope around, I think it feels refreshing after the gorgeous weekend we had.  Temperatures in the low 70s, sunny, and perfect for a three hour foliage walk through the park dotted with a Razzy date with B.  In case you're wondering, I went with pumpkin and cheesecake flavors swirled together.  To die for!

But, the sun has gone, and the clouds are here.  Late October cool rains are perfect for cozy foods.  You know, the kind that makes you want to literally hug your knees to your chest and pull a steaming bowl of something close to you.  This is exactly what happened last week when I wrapped my hands around a cup of this stew.

There is a saying that suggests making lemonade when God hands you lemons.  I'd like to submit a revision -- when your friend gives you an unwanted (due to excess) butternut squash from her latest CSA pick-up, you make stew!  (Thank you, L!)  Because, I'll be honest, I don't know how motivated I would've been to buy butternut squash on my own.  Especially in light of my latest pumpkin obsession.  So, having a butternut squash fall right into my lap was a blessing in disguise.

Pumpkin, acorn, and butternut are all good examples of winter squash.  Pumpkin is clearly the prom king of the group, but this year I'm noticing more and more recipes utilizing the other squash representatives.  A quick search for butternut squash uses and you'll discover, much like I did, that risotto seems to be the current favorite.  Since I wanted something a little more substantial that could pass for a whole meal, I kept looking and stumbled upon a simple stew that sounded much too good to ignore.

This stew is meaty and satisfying to even a lumberjack's appetite, or so I'm told.  The squash and beef both become so tender, absorbing the flavors of the onions, wine, and sun-dried tomatoes.  That last ingredient raised an eyebrow at first and had me wondering what on earth it was doing in a beef and squash stew... that is, until I sampled it.  The sun-dried tomatoes and sweet and chewy and add a gorgeous color to the finished product.  And goodness, please promise you won't forget to serve this with a petite baguette of crusty bread.  Those juices pack such a flavor punch that it'd be a crime to toss them.  Just look at that stew and tell me you aren't hungry, smitten, and/or maybe wishing a tiny wish for a sprinkling of snow.  What?  Too much?  Just me?  Eh, you'll get there eventually.  Or else you'll move to the south. :)

Beef and Butternut Squash Stew
(adapted from Giada DeLaurentiis)
-serves 6

A few notes: Regarding the cut of beef, pick whatever looks good or is inexpensive at the time.  Slow cooking beef will keep it tender, so even tougher cuts of meat will do well.  When trimming and cutting the squash, I suggest cutting it in half, so you have the long skinny part and bulb portion separated, which makes peeling and chopping much easier.  This soup also reheats wonderfully for lunch and dinner over the next few days, up to 4 sealed and kept in the fridge.

3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 pounds beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup Marsala (or other red) wine
1 pound butternut squash, trimmed, seeded, and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
4 cups beef broth
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Crusty bread, for serving

In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, rosemary, and thyme and saute until the onions are tender, about 2 minutes.  Toss the beef cubes in salt, pepper, and flour.  Turn up the heat to medium-high and add the beef to the pot.  Cook until the beef is browned and golden around the edges, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine.  Using a wooden spoon, gently stir up all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add the butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes and stir to combine.  Add enough beef broth to just cover the beef and squash.  Bring the stew to a boil over high heat, then reduce the hear to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Season the stew with additional salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Serve with crusty bread for a (for the females) soul-warming and (for the males) hearty and satisfying dinner.

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