Nov 26

It is no secret that the holiday season can often turn into a frenzy, and it starts the few days before Thanksgiving when everyone piles into the grocery stores for food shopping.  I fall victim to this every year, and despite my best intentions to plan, organize and streamline my menu, I over buy and under use ingredients I hope to cook with.  I tend to get caught up in the thought that Thanksgiving is the meal to end all meals for the year, and although there is the traditional fare to fall back on, it is far too tempting to be venture in new directions and be creative with the menu. In the spirit of this, I tend to broaden the possibilities for my menu, rather than narrow them down and end up with a fridge full of odds and ends the day after.

Good thing there is stufato. Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table likes to call this “garden in a pot“. I call it the perfect antidote to the Thanksgiving food hangover, and the ideal way to economize on all your leftover produce.  When you think you can’t possibly take another bite of roast turkey, stuffing, or pumpkin pie there is this Italian vegetable stew to look forward to the next day.  I don’t really buy into the notion of a cleansing diet, but I do think there is a time and place to under indulge in eating. When I woke up at 3 a.m., the morning after Thanksgiving, feeling slightly stuffed and queasy, I knew that time had come.

As it happens, I had a bulb of fennel, half a bag of green beans, a few tomatoes and artichokes and all the other makings that comprise the hodgepodge recipe to make stufato.  Ms. Kasper, who has done ample research on the dish in her travels through Italy, outlines a recipe for it on her site, and it is more a method than anything else for gradually cooking layers of vegetables together in one pot. The beauty of it is that it can be adapted seasonally, depending on what produce is available and in good shape at the time.  I took what I had lingering in my crisper drawer, along with staples I always have on hand, and have detailed my precise ingredients in the recipe below.

There are a few things that make or break a stufato. Because it is a dish comprised almost entirely of vegetables, it is a given that you should use the best quality.  It also helps to create a rich foundation for the stew by adequately browning your base of onion, celery, and carrot (or bell pepper and fennel, depending on what you have to work with).  The addition of freshly chopped herbs, along with cooking the stufato a day ahead of time, also greatly enhances the melding of flavors.  Beyond that, consider the pot your canvas.

Recipe:

Olive oil

1 bulb of fennel, cut into a medium dice

1 onion, cut into a medium dice

3 stalks of celery, cut into a medium dice

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 C white wine

1 C fresh grean beans, cut into small pieces

1 bunch broccolini, trimmed

2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

2 artichoke hearts, quartered

8 small tomatoes, such as campari, quartered

8 cremini mushrooms, quartered

2 Tbsp freshly chopped herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, basil or parsley

2 C chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Heat a wide, dutch oven over medium heat and add 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Cook the onion, fennel and celery together until it all starts to caramelize.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute before adding the tomato paste. Stir everything together and allow the tomato paste to cook for another minute. Next, deglaze the pan with the white wine and allow the wine to reduce by 75% . Next add the grean beans and broccolini and allow the vegetables to all cook together over medium heat for another two minutes. Repeat this with the artichoke hearts and mushrooms. Lastly, add the tomatoes, stock and herbs and simmer everything together over low heat for about half an hour.  In the last ten minutes, remove the lid to allow some of the extra liquid to evaporate.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the stufato hot or at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano.  To give it more substance, add cooked cranberry beans or sliced potatoes to the pot during  cooking and serve some crusty bread alongside.

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