Wintertime in my home means a nice hearty stews and fresh bread hot out of the oven. One of my favorite things in the winter, especially when it has been snowing, is coming home with the house smelling of a delicious stew and delicious fresh baked bread. And when everyone is tramping in and out of the cold, coming in hungry, a warm bowl of stew and a chewy piece of bread are welcome sights.
This winter is starting out unusually warm here in Colorado Springs, but that hasn’t stopped me from creating some of my family’s favorite winter combinations. We may not be as chilly as we usually are, but it is still a welcoming sight when everyone gets home in the evening—fresh cooked stew and warm baked bread. This past weekend, I took advantage of having some extra time and made a crusty ciabatta bread and slow cooker beef stew.
I started with the ciabatta. I like a recipe for ciabatta that I found at Leite’s Culinaria. Ciabatta can be time consuming, but the finished bread is well worth the extra steps it takes to make it. The night before I started I made the biga. Biga is a starter dough used in many regional Italian breads. If a shudder just ran up your spine at the thought of having to deal with a starter, stay with me for a minute.
For a long time, just the thought that I had to have a starter kept me from making ciabatta and many types of bread at home, and I like making and baking bread. But one mention of having to deal with a starter and I had visions of the Amish Friendship Cake where you are nursing a starter along for days before you could make the actual cake. I am not that patient—not for a cake and certainly not for bread.
But I did some research and found that the biga isn’t as big of a deal as I feared, and it lends much of the flavor that you find in good regional breads. The starter only needs a couple of ingredients and about 15 minutes of my time then it is on its own until I am ready to use it. Plus I can make it the night before if necessary. Or, if I doubled an initial batch I can put some in the freezer to use in the future. Yes, that’s right, the freezer. Biga, much to my surprise, freezes well. Once frozen, it only needs a few hours at room temperature until it is bubbly and activated again. If I end up making or thawing some biga but don’t end up making the ciabatta that day, the biga will survive in the refrigerator for up to five days, which is usually enough time for me to get back around to making bread.
Once the biga is made, making the ciabatta takes about 30 minutes of me and my stand mixer, then a few of hours of rising time and about 30 minutes of baking time. The payoff is a flavorful, crisp crust, a chewy, open crumb, and a full, wonderfully tangy flavor. If you have been surviving on store-bought ciabatta bread, homemade will spoil you. Store bought, in my opinion, just doesn’t hold a candle to homemade ciabatta bread.
I paired my fresh ciabatta with a slow cooker beef stew. This particular beef stew recipe from Cook’s Country caught my attention because it cooks the vegetables cook in a foil packet. My first thought was “They have got to be kidding—why would I want to do that?” But I gave it a try based on their statement of why the recipe works:
Browning the meat before adding it to the slow cooker made for more flavorful beef as well as broth in our Slow-Cooker Hearty Beef Stew. Soy sauce and tomato paste browned in a skillet enhanced the meaty flavor even further.
To ensure the vegetables cooked gently and didn’t turn to mush, we wrapped them in a foil packet and placed them on top of the meat in the slow cooker. We finished them in the broth toward the end to let them soak up flavor. (Cookcountry.com)
Did it work, yes. The vegetables were lovely and cooked through but not mushy. The few extra minutes of cooking time in the broth kept the vegetables from being bland. Even the parsnips, of which I am not the biggest fan, were nice, tender and favorable. Would I do it the same way again? That’s a tougher question—I like mushy potatoes and carrots in my stew. But for other dishes, I see the benefit of that little foil packet sitting on top of the meat.
Fresh ciabatta and beef stew: it’s a warming combination that your family will want again and again!
What's your favorite wintertime meal combination?
Italian Biga Recipe (From Leite’s Culinaria)
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces/ 60 grams) warm water
3/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons (7 ounces/ 200 grams) water, preferably bottled spring water, at room temperature
2 1/3 cups (11.6 ounces / 330 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
Ciabatta Recipe (From Leite’s Culinaria)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
5 tablespoons warm milk
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons water, at room temperature (if using a food processor, use cold water)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 very full cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) biga, rested for 12 hours (recipe above)
3 3/4 cups (17.5 ounces / 500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
1 tablespoon (0.5 ounces / 15 grams) salt
Cook’s Country Slow Cooker Hearty Beef Stew
5 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-1/2 inch pieces
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 onions, chopped fine
6-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium chicken or beef broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 tablespoons minute tapioca
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
Categories: Food & Recipes