My olive picking is finished for this season. I was outside picking a few hours every day that it didn’t rain. My son, Ben, cut down branches that I couldn’t reach. We took 150 kilos of olives to the mill and came home with 14 liters of new oil.
On picking days, I didn’t have much time to think about cooking. So I turned to some traditional dishes from rural Spain, such as this slow-cooked beef stew from the province of Ciudad Real, in the southern part of Castilla-La Mancha.
|Beef and vegetable stew is slow-cooked in a clay pot.|
All the ingredients are put to cook together—thus the name, tojunto, a contraction of “todo junto”, meaning “all together”. Supposedly this allowed the women of Almagro to get on with their lace-making (they make very pretty bobbin lace); the shepherd to keep the cheese-making going (Manchego cheese comes from here), workers in vineyards (Valdepeñas and La Mancha wines) and olive groves to keep working right up until dinner and the hunter in the fields to have a meal ready when he returned to camp.
In rural Spain, a sturdy dish such as this stew is served for the main meal of the day, around 2 pm.
Everything goes into the stew pot—preferably a clay pot, or olla de barro—at the same time and cooks a fuego lento—on a slow fire, without stirring, until the meat is tender. Clay-pot cooking is a lot like today’s slow cookers that keep a low and steady heat. A clay pot also keeps the food warm for an extended time, meaning a meal that can wait.
This stew is not thickened. Put the potatoes in whole, so they don’t break up with long cooking. Vegetables such as fresh green beans get very-well cooked. But, that’s sort of comforting.
Flank steak or chuck, cut into cubes, is a good cut for this slow-cooked stew. (Tojunto is also made with lamb, pork, chicken or rabbit.) Saffron is grown in this region of La Mancha. It adds subtle flavor and color to the stew. You can use regular sweet pimentón (paprika) or smoked pimentón.
I served the stew with pickled red onions and my home-cured olives.
|Meat, potatoes and vegetables cook together.|
“Altogether” Beef Stew
Serves 4 to 6.
1 onion, quartered and sliced
1 green bell pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 large tomato (or 3 plum tomatoes), peeled and cut in eighths
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 large carrot, peeled and quartered
4 medium potatoes, peeled
1 ½ pounds beef, cut in 1 ½-inch pieces
Pinch of ground cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
Sprig of thyme
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
1 teaspoon sweet pimento (paprika)
¼ cup hot water
4 ounces green beans, cut in 1-inch lengths (1 cup)
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup white wine
1 cup water
Chopped parsley to serve
Place the onion, pepper, tomato, and garlic in a cazuela or stew pot. Add the carrot, potatoes and veal or beef. Sprinkle the meat with cloves and pepper. Tuck the bay leaves and thyme around the meat.
|Add ingredients all together.|
Combine the crushed saffron and pimentón in a small bowl. Add ¼ cup hot water and stir to dissolve. Pour the liquid over the meat. Place the green beans on top. Sprinkle with salt. Pour over the oil and wine plus 1 cup of water.
Cover the cazuela or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, without stirring, until meat is very tender, about 2 hours. Allow to stand 15 minutes before serving with chopped parsley.
|I hand-pick olives.|