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Today: A bourguignon you can make when you get home from work tonight (or anytime at all).
It just isn't fair, in the long, dark weeknights of winter, that boeuf bourguignon can't reasonably happen when you get home from work, wind-whipped and blue.
Or can it?
Clotilde Dusoulier, translator of Ginette Mathiot's I Know How to Cook, has pointed out that these aren't the stews anyone is making at home in the hills of Burgundy, but even Mathiot's excellent, humble version will not be ready before you have starved your family.
But Deb Perelman, of the internet's favorite food blog and the brand new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, has designed a version that will do everything a bourguignon needs to do, and will do it in time for dinner tonight. There is no beef in it. You won't care.
As Perelman told me, "I was really looking closely at Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon (one of my mom's go-to dishes, still) and tried to include as many matching cooking processes as made sense to coax the mushrooms into as much stewy beefiness as possible."
Vegetarians (and friends of vegetarians) will like it because it's a celebratory meatless main dish, one that honors vegetables and the people who eat them, without a scrap of meat. (Perelman's new book has a whole chapter of these thoughtful mains for vegetarians, because she used to be one of them.)
I am not a vegetarian. I like it because it's a bourguignon you can make on a weeknight. Or whenever. Where's the boeuf? Who cares?
There's a fair amount of chopping and slicing up front, but by the time you start cooking, you're nearly done, and it will feel like a dance where you know all the moves.
First you sear the pearl onions and mushrooms -- take your pick: cremini is cuter, portobello more steak-like. With my medium-sized Dutch oven, I like to do this in a few batches so they can sizzle without steaming -- plus this builds up a good layer of toasty mushroom residue to deglaze later.
Next you scoop the mushrooms and baby onions out and set them aside so they don't cook down too much during the parade of other vegetables. They're doing the work of beef and mushrooms both, so you want to make sure they don't melt into the sauce too much.
Carrots, onions, thyme. Stir, stir. Garlic, stir. Red wine. Now the mushrooms and pearl onions go back in, with some broth and a knob of tomato paste, to simmer for 20 minutes. (This is a good time to tell someone to go set the table and drop your egg noodles in to boil. Farro or buttered potatoes are equally good.)
Swirl in a little butter and flour paste (a.k.a. beurre manie) and, 10 minutes later, the sauce is richly concentrated, thick, and glossy.
In only 30 minutes of simmer time, you get an amazingly warming and complex stew, thanks to some stand-up red wine, a few aromatics, and our old friend umami. Mushrooms are loaded with it.
In another nontraditional but brilliant move, Perelman serves this with a spoonful of sour cream, which, along with the egg noodles, is a nod to another beefy classic: stroganoff.
She explained, "My cooking influences are neatly divided between Americana/seasonal, French, and Eastern European/Russian. Pretty much whenever I try to stick with one (in this case, French) the other ones sneak in."
Well, sour cream, sneak on in, stay for dinner, tell the boeuf it can come for supper on Saturday, and not before.
Adapted very slightly from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf, 2012)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 pounds portobello mushrooms, in 1/4-inch slices (save the stems for another use) (you can use cremini instead, as well)
1/2 carrot, finely diced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup full-bodied red wine
2 cups beef or vegetable broth (beef broth is traditional but vegetable to make it vegetarian; it works with either)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup pearl onions, peeled (thawed if frozen)
Egg noodles, for serving
Sour cream and chopped chives or parsley, for garnish (optional)
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) [email protected]
Photos by Linda Xiao