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Now, on to the important stuff. Who’s in the mood for a hearty, hot stew? I am! I love a good stew, they’re so comforting and warm you up a treat. And can a stew ever be complete with out some puffy dumplings, soaked in sauce, bobbing on the top? Not in my book! This particular recipe is vegetarian but would please many a meat-eater with its depth of flavour and stick-to-your-ribs dumplings. A few tweaks to the dumplings and I suspect you could quite easily have a vegan-friendly supper on your hands. The secret to the depth of flavour that I sometimes find vegetable stews and casseroles lacking in, is a big dollop of Marmite – love it of hate it, the nation’s favourite yeast extract adds a deep, almost meaty taste that really adds body to stews and makes up for the absence of browned meat.
I like to use dried beans in my cooking which take a little advanced planning but no great effort. Cooking your own gives you more control of the texture of the finished product and the salt content. You can use any combination of beans you like although I tend to avoid the pre-mixed packs as the variety of beans all cook in different times and you inevitably end up with some turning to mush before others are ready. I tend to pick two or three varieties with a similar cooking time; in this case some pretty golden and pink striped borlottis that keep their shape well even after a long stew and white haricots (the classic baked bean). To provide a good base of flavour for my stew I used the ‘holy trinity’ of onion, carrot and celery and topped them up with fennel and garlic for a classic Italian taste and a healthy serving of vegetables in every portion. Who says healthy food can’t taste great and fill you up?
Bean stew with cheese dumplings
- 350g dried beans (I used borlotti and haricot)*
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 sticks of celery, finely chopped
- a bulb of fennel, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tbsp Marmite
- 125ml white wine
- 2 x 400g tin crushed tomatoes
For the dumplings:
- 75g self-raising flour
- 75g wholemeal self-raising flour
- 70g vegetarian suet or cold butter
- 100g mature cheddar, grated
- 2 tsp mustard powder
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 10 tbsp cold water
Rinse the beans and soak in cold water with the bicarbonate of soda overnight. Rinse well, place in a large pan and cover with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for an hour and a half (or follow the cooking instructions on your pack). Drain, rinse and leave to cool.
In a large, heavy pot heat the oil on a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and fennel, cover and cook for 15 minutes until soft and starting to brown, stirring from time to time. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a few more minutes.
Stir in the Marmite and wine and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, chopped tomatoes and 200ml water.
Cover and simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes stirring often while you make the dumplings:
Mix the flour, suet, cheese, mustard powder and salt in a bowl. Add the cold water a little at a time to form a soft dough. Roll pinches of the dough into about 16 walnut-sized (3cm) balls. Cover until needed.
Taste the bean stew and add salt and pepper to taste. Drop the dumplings on top, cover and simmer on a low heat for 40 minutes.
Serve with a big sprinkle of parsley.
*You can also use 900g of ready-cooked beans. Drain and rinse them before adding to the pot.