Book about stews doesn't put on airs

BOOKMARK

Instead, it's authentic and exhaustive, even overwhelming

January 15, 2003|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

Real Stew by Clifford A. Wright (Harvard Common Press, 2002, $18.95) is a cookbook that doesn't put on airs. You will not find wide-spaced recipes imposed over chic drawings of kitchen utensils. You will not find artsy photographs on every other page, the food fancifully arranged amid flickering candles.

Real Stew is what it is - an authentic, exhaustive look at 300 recipes for stews, braises, ragouts, goulashes, chowders and the like, arranged in chapters not by what is easy or what is trendy, but by what is the chief ingredient: stews with veal, stews with fowl, stews with mixed meat, etc.

Want to know the most common stew-cooking vessels around the world? It's here. The Russian roots of beef stroganoff? It's here.

Looking for rustic, old-country recipes involving tripe, kidneys, oxtails? Here, here, here.

In fact, what is at times off-putting about this collection is the author's fervent commitment to the original. It can make for delicious stews, no doubt, but be warned you may spend more time than you'd like hunting down veal feet, fresh squirrel, passila chiles, and other hard-to-find exotic ingredients.

I was so overwhelmed by the work anticipated in authentic beef burgundy that I opted for the simpler Swedish meatball stew instead - and found it hit the same spot I had for stew on a recent cold day when there was snow on the ground.

Everyday Swedish Meatball Stew

Makes 4 to 5 servings

1/2 cup crumbled crackers

1 cup whole milk

1 large egg

1 pound ground beef (not more than 15 percent fat)

salt

freshly ground black pepper

freshly ground white pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed

3 cups beef bouillon (homemade or from a concentrated cube) or canned low-sodium beef broth

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Soak the crackers for 10 minutes in the milk in a small bowl. Squeeze the milk out of the crackers. Place the egg in a food processor and run for 15 seconds. Add the crackers, beef, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper and process until pasty. Alternatively, everything can be mixed by hand in a bowl, but the meatballs will be more coarsely textured. Make as many meatballs, 1-inch in diameter, as you can. Set aside.

In a large casserole or skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs with the potatoes until light golden on all sides, about 4 minutes. Pour in the beef bouillon and season to taste with salt; add pepper to taste and the paprika. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle with parsley 5 minutes before the stew is done, and serve immediately.

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