Seeking Little Miss | Beef with Barolo, Wild Mushrooms, and Orange

What, after all, is more real to us than the geography of our childhoods.Dan Simmons


Children stampeding – Senses sharp as the crisp air – New car coats flapping – Runny noses.

White bobby socks tinted tan by swirling red clay dust. Smocked dresses over crunchy petticoats knocking above scabbed knees.

Some of us had a hard time wresting ourselves away from playing house among the water deprived tree roots that served our imaginations on November 22, 1963.

We ran for our lives when the school bell rang. Morning recess was over at the city park on the hill next to Joyner Elementary School. Left in haste, the empty swing sets creaked, silhouetted against the sky.

Inside Joyner, the lineup at the silver rocket ship of a water fountain wound down the cavernous hallway. Bouncing third graders delayed certain entry into afternoon science class.

It was then that Johnny Ennis announced, “President Kennedy has been shot and he is died.” We argued that no he had not.

Inside the classroom, Miz Gregory said that it was so and we were excused to go home.

I locked step with my next door neighbor Mark Monts. After arriving at my sandbox, we ditched our shoes and sat on the crudely cut plywood corners that my father fashioned for seats.

We silently pushed deep trails with our bare feet until my mother called me inside to watch events on the tv. I resisted. “But you’ll need to have this on record,” she said.

With great force, I pulled back the sliding glass door that opened onto a “new den” that my parents had added-on to better our lives.

Positioning myself in front of the new tv set, I gazed at the grainy picture and wished that the giant oak hovering over the sandbox had some big roots too so I could go back to the work of playing house.

Beef with Barolo, Wild Mushrooms, and Orange

Living down the street from my grandparents, I found good food on two tables and both served up beef stew on a weekly basis.

Though I have come to love a fancier rendition (worth it), the dish is still served by this descendant like it always was: from a tureen into a soup bowl with a dollop of white rice ladled from a coin silver spoon.

This recipe is taken from Serena Bass, one of the most brilliant caterers who ever graced New York society.

vegetable oil for sautéing
3 large onions, cut into 3/4 inch dice
5 stalks of celery, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch thick slices
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
three 3-inch strips orange zest (removed with a small knife)
1 1/2 all purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 1/2 pounds well-marbled beef chuck steak – at room temperature, trimmed of fat and cut into
1 1/2 inch cubes
1 15 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 cups full-bodied Barolo wine
1 beef bouillon cube
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon herbes de Provence
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 1 1/2 cups warm water until soft

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 300 degrees.

Put 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy sauce pan over medium-high heat, add the onions, celery, garlic, and orange zest and saute until wilted and well caramelized, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a large bowl and set aside. Put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the same saucepan and set it over high heat. While the oil is heating, put the flour, salt, and pepper in a plastic bag and throw in half of the cubed beef. Hold the bag close at the top and shake to coat the cubes with seasoned flour. Pick the cubes out of the flour and pat them to remove any large clumps of flour, then saute them in the hot oil for 1 1/2 minutes on each side, turning with tongs until they are well browned. While they are browning, shake the rest of the beef cube to coat with flour, then when the first ones are finished, remove them with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the vegetables and saute the rest, adding more oil as needed. Discard the remaining seasoned flour.

Lower the heat and tip the vegetables and the first batch of the sautéed beef back in on top of the beef in the saucepan. Add the crushed tomatoes, wine, bouillon cube, bay leaves, and herbs de Provence, and stir to mix well, scraping up any brown, crusted areas. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture thickens – about 5 minutes.

Line a strainer with paper towels, set it over a small bowl to catch the porcini water, and pour the porcini into the strainer. Gather up the paper towel and gently squeeze to get out most of the water. Rinse the soaked mushrooms, chop them roughly and add them along with the porcini water to the stew. Stir again and transfer the stew to a covered overproof casserole.

Put the stew in the oven for 1 1/2 hours, then test a piece of meat to see if it’s tender by trying to cut it with a wooden spoon. If you can’t, wait 15 minutes and try again. Depending on the quality of the beef, it could take over 2 hours, so keep calm – a very wise decision to make this stew one day ahead.

Spectacular with roasted carrots and rutabagas.

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