To get over the “cook’s block,” I pour through recipe books and scour the Internet for ideas. As I hadn’t made a soup or stew in a while, I found myself leaning in that direction. Soon I came across a Cuban recipe for “carne con papas” or “meat and potatoes” and decided I had the perfect dish. Not only did it remind me of my home in Florida, which I find myself missing more and more, but it seemed like a tasty dish.
The recipe I made offered enough hearty fare to fill the stomachs of probably 8-10 people or give two hungry reporters dinner for a good three days. During our second round of leftovers, I called the meal “peasant fare” as it was inexpensive, filling, and kept on going for three nights. In an age where gas costs $3.50 per gallon, inexpensive, tasty and “stretched” food means saving money.
Hawkins had to cover the Trigg County Prom on Friday when I started to cook. His absence in the evening meant that the ingredients had a good four hours to stew and simmer. If your colleague and best friend is not out on an evening assignment, I would suggest starting to cook early, if possible.
The stew began with half of a white onion and half of a bell pepper. I diced them both and placed them into a blender with two peeled cloves of garlic, a quarter teaspoon of both cumin and salt and an eighth of a cup of extra virgin olive oil. Puree these ingredients until smooth for a good and thick vegetable “base” for the soup. Once finished, set the puree aside.
The other half onion and pepper should also be diced and sautéed. This gives our stew a nice bit of chunkiness to enjoy. When the onions begin to soften, add the puree of onion and pepper and allow it to bubble in the trusty five-quart pot.
When the puree begins to sizzle, I added two more teaspoons of cumin, and a tablespoon each of paprika, dry oregano and cilantro. This gave the stew a spicy, though not painful flavor and a proper Cuban taste. A teaspoon of parsley provides a little color as well.
With the spicy stew base sizzling along, I added one large tomato, cut into cubes to the stew. As a child, I never cared for tomatoes. Thankfully, I outgrew that nonsense and decided a tomato would be perfect for this dish.
At that moment, carne con papas had neither meat nor potato, and didn’t seem very stew-like. To make it more of a stew, I added a cup of white wine and the meat, which was about two-and-a-half pounds of inexpensive stew meat from the supermarket. As it began to simmer, I added a can of beef broth, if only for hearty flavor. To keep the beefiness from overwhelming the dish, I filled the can with water and poured it in as well.
The pot still didn’t seem quite right, so I added an eight-ounce can of tomato sauce. We were getting there, but for a thick stew, it needed one more ingredient. I used one six-ounce can of tomato paste, and the texture seemed perfect.
As the beef cooked, I began to taste my stew. I thought it needed a little more spice, so I added a tablespoon of mild habanero pepper sauce and a pay leaf. One thing all recipes agreed upon was that a cook should not brown the meat before cooking. I didn’t, and the results seemed to be desirable for this dish.
I would say cook the stew with a low simmer for three or four hours, with the cover on. Stir about every 15 minutes to blend flavors and prevent sticking. In the last 45 minutes, I steamed a pot of rice to serve the stew over. When the rice is taken care of, I added two, large white potatoes, peeled and cubed to my stew and re-covered the pot. At this point, the stew is ready when the potatoes reach desired tenderness.
Hawkins pulled into his driveway around 9 that night. Even with the return of our uninvited guest, the calico cat “Cookie Puss” and heavy rains, he found his way inside safely to a hot bowl of carne con papas served over a bed of rice. We watched Comedian Lewis Black’s new show called “The Root of All Evil.” It’s sort of a mock trial pitting the evils of two cultural phenomenons against each other. Our favorite funnyman Patton Oswalt often argues cases on that show, with hilarious verdicts. Hot stew and laughter on a rainy night guaranteed a good time was had by all. Good eating.