Delightfully old fashioned and frugal, this meal is comfort and joy in a pot. The stew is deliberately simple in its ingredients, so make sure you use the best quality beef you can find. It’s a cheap cut and you don’t need very much, so go for quality, here.
Although I would make this to feed four, it will easily stretch to 6 with a suitably traditional dessert such as a steamed pudding or fruit crisp.
500g stewing beef, cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
Small knob of butter (about 2 tsp)
2 medium onions (or one large one), finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary, left whole
500ml beef stock
2 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
For the dumplings:
250g plain flour
2 + 1/2 tsp baking powder
Generous pinch of salt and pepper
125g cold butter
Splash of water
Preheat the oven to 325F/ 160C/ 150C Fan.
Preheat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat and add a drizzle of vegetable oil. Season the beef with salt and pepper, then brown in batches. Take your time and wait for a nice dark crust to form – this is what will give your stew amazing flavour.
Remove the browned meat to a plate and set aside for a moment. Add a small knob of butter to the pot, then add the chopped onion and celery with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook down for about ten minutes, stirring often.
Once the vegetables have softened, add the bay leaves and rosemary and return the beef to the pot along with any resting juices. Add the beef stock, then add the parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Top up with at least a cup of water, enough to cover the meat and vegetables.
Bring to a bubble, then pop on the lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for 2 – 2.5 hours, until the meat is tender. Discard the rosemary sprig and bay leaves, then taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if required. Don’t worry if the stew looks as though it has too much liquid – the dumplings will absorb a lot of moisture.
Turn the oven up to 375F / 190C / 180C Fan and pop the stew back in, with the lid on, while you make the dumplings.
To make the dumplings, all you do is add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to a bowl and whisk to combine. Use the coarse side of a box grater to grate in the cold butter, then use your fingers to lightly toss the butter and flour together. Use your fingers to rub the butter and flour together so there are no large bits of butter. Then add just enough water, a little at a time, until the dough just comes together. Use your hands or a cutlery knife to mix. Don’t knead or overmix, but gently combine. Just think: quick and lazy. Form into 12 balls.
Remove the stew from the oven and place the dumplings on the surface of the stew. Press them in gently so they are partly submerged. Pop the lid back on and return to the oven. Cook for 30 minutes without disturbing it, having faith these doughy balls will become fluffy dumplings before too long.
To serve, simply scoop servings into shallow bowls, making sure everyone gets a bit of everything, including and especially some gravy over the top.