The beauty of stew is that it keeps getting better and better until it´s over. But you might get a little bit bored. Or you might need to make it go further for unexpected guests. Or maybe you were planning to have a springy lunch, but the weather suddenly turned from Barefoot in the park to Doctor Zhivago, like this week in Madrid, and you want something hot and warming.
Whatever the case, it´s where your pantry comes into play. Lydia has been showing us the contents of her Perfect Pantry for a while, but now there´s a new feature of sneak peeks into other pantries, and you can have a look at mine. It´s far from perfect, but provided you have the basics, like onions and oil and such, a few odds and ends will make all the difference to leftovers. You´ll be able to cook up huge batches of the easy beef stew, with no fear of boredom.
Just shake off any notions of cooking for real ethnic authenticity and enjoy the ride with any of these clever stew makeovers.
1-Patatas con carne. Put your stew, potatoes cut into chunks, and stock to cover in a pan (of course by stock you know I mean water and a cube. Viva el MSG, I feel ever so vindicated by the New York Times!). When the potatoes are done, it should be a thick warming soup. If you take the time to start with a sofrito and add a dash of pimentón, so much the better.
2- Ragù. Put whatever meat and gravy you have, well shredded, in a pan with a jar of good bottled tomato sauce and some sugar (or ketchup). Leave to bubble down furiously while you cook the pasta. Don´t forget to add a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta cooking water to the sauce.
3- Curry. This can be as basic as frying some spice paste from a jar, adding the meat, and waiting for it to heat trhough; or as elaborate as you care to make it, with a good vegetable base and your own whole spices. I usually sautee onions and garlic and ginger and cumin and chili, add some curry powder, the meat and maybe some coconut milk or yogurt, maybe some tomato sauce, maybe both, and simmer it a bit while the rice cooks. I might throw in some frozen peas, too. They make a pretty contrast with the dark sauce.
4- Chili. Do the onion-garlic-pepper thing, add cumin and whatever source of heat you like, a dash of barbecue sauce, then the stew and a can of beans. Very lovely stuff.
5-Pie. Put the meat in a dish and cover with puff pastry. If you make a bottom layer of shortcrust, then it will be the stuff of legend. Serve with minted peas.
6- Go Middle Eastern by making a spiced sautee of onions and garlic (with cumin and ginger and maybe cinammon, whatever you like), add dried apricots and prunes, leave to soften a bit, then add the meat and simmer for a few minutes. Scatter some toasted almonds on top and serve with cous cous and you´re in business.